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N.J. Religious
Group Found to Be Discriminating Against Lesbian Couple

N.J. Religious
Group Found to Be Discriminating Against Lesbian Couple

The New Jersey Division on Civil Rights ruled Monday that a church group discriminated against a lesbian couple when it denied them the right to hold their civil union ceremony on beachfront property the group owns but has advanced as a public space.

The New Jersey Division on Civil Rights ruled Monday that a church group discriminated against a lesbian couple when it denied them the right to hold their civil union ceremony on beachfront property the group owns but has advanced as a public space.

The division found that Harriet Bernstein and Luisa Paster had probable cause to claim that the Ocean Grove Camp Meeting Association's rejection of their bid to rent the boardwalk violates the state's antidiscrimination law. According to a press release from the LGBT civil rights organization Garden State Equality, the opinion was based on the boardwalk pavilion's being "public" by nature of its historic use as open to everyone without restrictions. For years, the Camp Meeting Association had applied for and received state tax breaks under New Jersey's "Green Acres" program, which requires facilities to be open and nondiscriminatory to all. In September 2007 the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection ended the association's tax breaks for the boardwalk area based on the group's ban on civil unions.

Following the ruling in favor of the couple, an administrative law judge will now issue a ruling on how to remedy the situation.

"What this case has always been about from my clients' perspective has been equality," Larry Lustberg, the couple's lawyer, told the Associated Press. Lustberg said they are seeking an order that would require the boardwalk to be equally accessible to everyone.

Alliance Defense Fund attorney Brian Raum, who represents the Camp Meeting Association, said his client would attempt to continue blocking civil union ceremonies on the property.

"Our position is the same," he told the AP. "A Christian organization has a constitutional right to use their facilities in a way that is consistent with their beliefs." (Advocate.com)

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