Tue Jul 10, 2007 - 12:15 pm EST
Lesbian Couple Files Complaint against Church for Refusing Civil Union Ceremony
By Peter J. Smith
OCEAN GROVE, New Jersey (LifeSiteNews.com) - A New Jersey lesbian couple has filed a civil rights complaint against a Christian seaside retreat association that refused to facilitate their "civil union."
Harriet Bernstein and Luisa Paster filed the complaint June 19 with the state attorney general’s office on the grounds of discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation after the Ocean Grove Camp Meeting Association declined the use of their Boardwalk Pavilion for their civil union ceremony, planned for September.
Bernstein and Paster demanded "whatever relief is provided by law" including unspecified "compensatory damages for economic loss, humiliation, [and] mental pain."
New Jersey’s anti-discrimination laws currently forbid those who "offer goods, services, and facilities to the general public" from "directly or indirectly denying or withholding any accommodation, service, benefit, or privilege to an individual" on the basis of sexual orientation.
However the OGCMA has stated that it must adhere to the rules of the United Methodist Book of Discipline, which forbids homosexual civil unions from being performed in churches and other areas for worship.
"The facility that they requested is a facility we have used exclusively for our camp meeting mission and worship celebrations since 1869," Scott Hoffman, OGCMA’s chief administrative officer told LifeSiteNews.com.
The Pavilion is routinely used for worship ceremonies and gospel concerts, and used to be available for weddings until recently, Hoffman said. "Right now we’re waiting for a response from the attorney general’s office as what to do next."
On top of that, the form Bernstein and Paster submitted in February would have also agreed to "indemnify and hold harmless" the OGCMA from claims arising from the use of the facility.
Although the OGCMA had 20 days to respond to the charges, Hoffman said his group "requested another 10 days so we would be able to fully and adequately prepare our response."
The group is considering all options, and contacted the Alliance Defense Fund for added legal expertise over its first amendment rights. Hoffman said his church group will attempt mediation with Bernstein and Paster to keep it out of the attorney general’s office, but will not compromise.
"We are most definitively a religious organization, our mission statement is to provide a place for spiritual birth, growth and renewal in a Christian seaside setting," said chief administrative officer Scott Hoffman. "We don’t think that by the way the rules are written now that churches are required by any stretch of the imagination to adhere to those policies, and we don’t think we are either."