The Ocean Grove Camp Meeting Association violated state discrimination laws when it denied a same-sex couple the use of its boardwalk pavilion for a civil union ceremony in 2007, a state administrative law judge ruled this week.
Ocean Grove residents Harriet Bernstein and Luisa Pastor were denied use of the pavilion, routinely rented to other members of the public, because hosting the ceremony would have been a violation of the Methodist group's religious convictions, the association's attorney said.
Judge Solomon A. Metzger of the Office of Administrative Law ruled that the association breached its agreement with the state, which granted the pavilion a tax exempt status in exchange for making it available to the public on an equal and non-discriminatory basis, according to a release from the New Jersey branch of the American Civil Liberties Union, which represented the couple in the case.
When asked if they would appeal the decision, the association's attorney, Jim Campbell, of the Alliance Defense Fund based in Scottsdale, Ariz., said his client was discussing "all options."
Campbell added that he still believed that the association was on the right side of the law.
"The government should not be able to force a private religious organization to use its property in a way that would violate its own beliefs," Campbell said by telephone on Friday. "That's why Ocean Grove is asserting its constitutional rights and that's why Ocean Grove ultimately believes that the law is on its side."
The judge's decision goes to the Director of the Division on Civil Rights, who has 45 days to adopt, modify or reject it, or the ruling becomes final, the release says.
The final decision can be appealed to the Appellate Division of the Superior Court, the release says.