The Methodist Church has lost a round over homosexual unions.
In March 2007 the Ocean Grove Camp Meeting Association refused to permit two lesbians -- Harriet Bernstein, 67, and Luisa Paster, 61 -- to stage a civil union ceremony at the church-owned Boardwalk Pavilion, and returned their check for $250. Subsequently, says Mat Staver of Liberty Counsel, the lesbians filed a legal complaint against group. However, Association officials countered that the decision was based on their religious beliefs.
"That didn't make any difference to the New Jersey Division of Civil Rights," says Staver of the group that issued its determination on Monday. "They said there's no First Amendment defense here and in fact the church violated the public accommodation law in New Jersey," the attorney notes. "After New Jersey adopted the same-sex civil union law, no longer could the church allow its facility to be used in ministry to the public because to do so would open them up to these same-sex civil unions."
Staver says that puts the church in a quandary. "The church has really been put in the situation where the clash between the same-sex civil unions and the religious liberty is forcing the church to either violate its own religious freedom or open up its facility to the community," he points out.
The church lost a federal court decision dealing with the same matter, and that case is on appeal. The Camp Meeting Association is represented in the case by the Alliance Defense Fund, which has argued that a Christian organization has a constitutional right to use its facilities in a manner consistent with its beliefs.
Founded in 1869, the Ocean Grove Camp Meeting Association is affiliated with the United Methodist Church.