N.J. Gay Couple Sees Victory in Discrimination Case
A judge recently ruled in favor of Harriet Bernstein, 70, and Luisa Paster, 60, a lesbian couple from Ocean Grove, N.J., in a civil rights case. The women sued the Ocean Grove Camp Meeting Association because it prohibited them from holding their civil union ceremony at the public pavilion on the Ocean Grove public boardwalk, Garden State Equality reported in a Jan. 13 press release.
Ocean Grove is located on the Atlantic Ocean Jersey Shore, between Jersey Shore and Asbury Park.
Judge Solomon A. Metzger of the Office of Administrative Law ruled that the association went against the state’s Law Against Discrimination when it refused to let Bernstein and Paster to use the boardwalk pavilion in 2007. In the past, the association allowed other citizens to use the facility and never declined a permit to anyone unless there were scheduling conflicts, the American Civil Liberties Union of New Jersey reported in its press release.
EDGE noted in a Sept. 2007 article, however, that the association denied the use of the pavilion to Janice Moore and Emily Sonnessa and another lesbian couple.
"The Camp Meeting Association could have used the pavilion exclusively for its own purposes," said Lawrence Lustberg of Gibbons, who represents the couple. "The judge found, however, that the association opened the pavilion up to the public and thus was obligated to follow anti-discrimination laws."
"We are pleased with the judge’s findings," said Bernstein. "When we first started planning our civil union, we had no idea that it would come to this. We weren’t asking the association to change their beliefs. We just wanted them to give us the same opportunity to use a beautiful space that we had seen open for public use."
Bernstein, a retired school administrator and grandmother and Paster, a retired academic librarian, celebrated their civil union at a fishing pier less than a mile away from the pavilion in June 2007.
"This decision affirms New Jersey’s strong protections against discrimination," said Jeanne LoCicero, ACLU-NJ Deputy Legal Director. "When you open your doors to the public, you can’t treat same-sex couples differently."
Ocean Grove was founded in 1869 by Methodist ministers and was a popular destination of the camp meeting movement. Clergymen 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.
Oddly enough, Ocean Grove is located next to Asbury Park, which has had a large gay community since the ’70s and is an up-and-coming beach town, similar to popular gay travel destinations like Provincetown, Mass., and Fire Island, N.Y. Several gays bought and restored old Victorian homes, which led to the city’s rejuvenation. Then in 1999, the Paradise Nightclub opened as did the Empress Hotel -- the state’s only gay-oriented hotel.