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08/14/2007

Ocean Grove Pavilion: Public, private, or public for everyone except gays?

by Jeremy Hooper

 Good As You Images Picture-2-82 1So you might remember back in July, we told you about a situation in Ocean Grove, NJ, where a lesbian couple was denied the opportunity to hold a civil union ceremony in a certain pavilion because said pavilion has ties to the Methodist Church. Well, that story is back in the news today, as the virulently anti-gay Alliance Defense Fund has filed a federal suit against the New Jersey Division of Civil Rights, claiming that the state's Law Against Discrimination is unconstitutional if it can be applied in a way that prevents religious groups from limiting property usage in accordance with their religious beliefs:

Civil-union fight leads to federal court suit [Asbury Park Press]

But here's the thing: This is not at all a matter of a house of worship's right to deny gay marriage! Most gays agree that churches should have that freedom (as unrighteous as it may be). The true issue with this Garden State situation is that those who run this particular pavilion, the Ocean Grove Camp Meeting Association, do in fact rent the pavilion to non-Methodists who wish to hold wedding ceremonies, as well as to concert acts and other public performers. So the question is whether or not the Methodist-affiliated group can selectively apply their "religious freedoms" to same-sex couples (whose unions are guaranteed by the Supreme Court to be equal to marriages) in a way dissimilar from heterosexuals. And there is VERY strong belief that since the pavilion is rented out like any other business, then its overseers are subject to the same state public commerce laws (which bar discrimination) as any other business. So it's really a matter of whether or not this pavilion is to be considered public property that is being looked into, not whether or not private churches can keep their unions gay-free!

But of course rather than let the investigation into the matter play out in a reasoned fashion, the 'mo foes at the ADF are trying to step in and paint this as yet another way we gays are trying to stifle religious freedom in this country. By filing this incredibly premature lawsuit, they are not only trying to defend their side's position and exalt religious freedom to a place where it trumps all other freedoms, but they are also trying to stymy a fair, logical investigation into the matter. It's insulting not only to gays, but also to the very nature of fairness!

Look, we don't know how this will ultimately play out. Being that it is both a church-affiliated and public-affiliated accommodation, we see how it could go either way. However, our side is more than willing to let an investigation into the facts to play out in a logical fashion, letting the chips fall where they may. But the ADF won't even acknowledge the public accommodation claims, instead making it sound like this outdoor pavilion is frickin' St. Patrick's Cathedral! They are aware that they must use duplicity and misrepresentation in order to get anywhere, so they know that stepping in and trying to twist this firmly to the side of "religious bias" is their best bet. But one thing we can promise you: Even if they win on this or any one situation, their dirty tactics and aggressive ignorance will never prevail in the end!!

**UPDATE, 9/6: It's getting ugly in Ocean Grove, but many, like The Star-Ledger's Tom Moran, are getting the truth out:

Gays only welcome if they know their place [Star-Ledger]

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Your thoughts

The Green Acres program is about encouragement of public uses for conservation and recreation purposes. A civil union ceremony does not qualify as such a use.

The tax exemption part of this dispute is more fluff than substance.

Access does not mean that the property is "public property" as per the gay activist group that has been demonstrating and pushing its zeal to punish those with whom they disagree. Their comments to the newsmedia on this score are clearly mistaken.

On the other hand, marriage in New Jersey is both-sexed, and constitutionally so. Civil union is one-sexed, as per the enabling legislation.

The Methodist organization has been tolerant in that it has accomodated civil union ceremonies on its property (for example the couple who sparked the dispute had a ceremony on the pier) but the organization has a policy about the use of its pavilion and the other edifices there which are directly related to its Methodist affiliation.

It is important to distinguish between its Christian purpose -- both in owning the property and in governing its uses -- and its role in working with the government, and other property owners, for the purpose of conservation and recreation uses by the public. Equal access for these uses is different than access for uses that contradict the Methodist organization's First Amendment liberties.

Civil union ceremonies are not public uses as per the Green Acre program's conservation and recreation purpose. Sure, they are uses of a different kind. The Methodist organization did not exchange First Amendment liberties when it cooperated with such a governmental program. They did not exchange their teachings on marriage, nor on civil union, when they permitted weddings to be performed at the pavilion.

Posted by: Chairm | Sep 24, 2007 8:18:52 PM

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