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N.J. Civil Group Found to Discriminate Against Lesbian Couple

by Jason St. Amand
National News Editor
Thursday October 25, 2012

A New Jersey agency found on Tuesday that an organization based in Ocean Grove, N.J., discriminated against a lesbian couple when it refused to allow them to hold a civil ceremony on its boardwalk pavilion in 2007, the Asbury Park Press reports.

The Ocean Grove Camp Meeting Association prohibited Harriet Bernstein, 70, and her partner Lusia Paster, 60, from holding their civil union ceremony on the Ocean Grove public boardwalk five years ago when they denied the couple's application to use the facility.

The women sued the group and in January, they saw a victory when a judge ruled in their favor and found that the organization violated the state's Law Against Discrimination, EDGE reported.

The association allowed other citizens to use the facility and never refused them a permit unless there were scheduling conflicts, according to Judge Solomon A. Metzger of the Office Administrative Law. But EDGE pointed out in September 2007 that the organization did turn away Janice Moore and Emily Sonnessa and another lesbian couple the use of the pavilion.

The state division of civil rights director Craig Sashihara upheld Metzger's decision and wrote that the organization violated the anti-discrimination measure that protects members of the LGBT community.

"The laws of New Jersey prevailed," Bernstein told the newspaper. "We're delighted."

Since the couple did not seek financial restitution, the association will only get a penalty for breaking the state law, Sashihara wrote.

The publication points out that in 2008 the state Department of Environmental Protection denied the group's request for a tax abatement for the pavilion because its pavilion was not accessible to everyone on an equal basis.

The association no longer rents out the facility for weddings.

Instead of holding their wedding ceremony on the pavilion, Bernstein, a retired school administrator and grandmother and Pastor, a retired academic librarian, celebrated their event at a fishing pier less than a mile away from the pavilion in 2007.

Methodist ministers founded Ocean Grove in 1869 and it soon became a popular location for the camp meeting movement. Clergyman William B. Osborn and Ellwood H. Stokes formed the Ocean Grove Camp Meeting Association to create a summer camp meeting site on the state's shore.

Ironically, Ocean Grove abuts Asbury Park, which has become a major gay second-home and resort destination since the '70s. The once-rundown town, best known for providing the platform for a young Bruce Springsteen, is an up-and-coming beach town that some have compared to Provincetown, Mass., and Fire Island, N.Y.

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