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Judge Rules in Favor of Lesbian Couple Turned Away From Ceremony Space

Judge Rules in Favor of Lesbian Couple Turned Away From Ceremony Space


A New Jersey judge said a Methodist-affiliated association broke state laws when members denied access to a lesbian couple who wanted to have their civil union ceremony on the organization's seaside boardwalk grounds.

Ocean Grove, N.J., couple Luisa Paster, 64, and Harriet Bernstein, 70, were interested in using the Ocean Grove Camp Meeting Association's boardwalk pavilion for their civil union ceremony in March 2007. The space had been previously used for community gatherings, fund-raisers, and private events. While the association had previously allowed the public to rent the space, it rejected Paster and Bernstein's request because civil unions violated the group's Methodist doctrine, according to the American Civil Liberties Union, which represented the couple in the case.

"When we first started planning our civil union, we had no idea that it would come to this," Bernstein said in a statement Friday. "We weren't asking the association to change their beliefs. We just wanted them to give us the same opportunity to use a beautiful space that we had seen open for public use."

Administrative law judge Solomon A. Metzger said the meeting association must allow access to the public because the organization received tax exemptions. The judge also found that while the group's Methodist affiliation is sanctioned, it had never barred any couple from performing their ceremony at the pavilion until Paster and Bernstein applied to rent the space.

Solomon's decision will go to the Division on Civil Rights. The director of the division must adopt, modify, or reject the judge's decision within 45 days. If he or she does not, the judge's ruling becomes the final decision.

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