Friday, June 29, 2007

"We Won't Force Churches to Marry Same-Sex Couples"

At least, not this week. But they will force churches to provide the space to do it:
TRENTON, N.J. -- A lesbian couple barred from holding their civil union ceremony at a beachfront pavilion in Ocean Grove has filed a state civil rights complaint against the church group that owns the property.

The couple, Harriet Bernstein and Luisa Paster, of Ocean Grove, alleged in a complaint filed Tuesday with the New Jersey Division on Civil Rights that they were denied use of the boardwalk pavilion because of their pending status as same-sex civil union partners.

"They have weddings there all the time," said Bernstein, a semi-retired educational consultant. "We wanted to have our ceremony on the boardwalk, on the beach, because it's a beautiful setting, just like any married couple would want to do."

Division on Civil Rights Director Frank Vespa-Papaleo said the complaint was the first to deal with discrimination in public places under New Jersey's new civil union law, which took effect in February.

The boardwalk pavilion the couple applied to use is owned by the Ocean Grove Camp Meeting Association, a Methodist ministry that owns all the land and the boardwalk in the oceanfront enclave of Victorian homes that is now part of Neptune Township.

The couple applied in March to rent the pavilion for a Sept. 30 ceremony. Their application was rejected and their $75 deposit returned.
Here's an interesting question: which takes priority? The First Amendment's free exercise of religion clause? Or a state law prohibiting discrimination? A business that refuses to print wedding announcements for a same-sex couple clearly loses; there's no Constitutional right to refuse business. But forcing a church to provide space for a wedding that they find abhorrent clearly forces a church to violate its conscience. This is no different than if an Jewish synagogue or temple was in the habit of renting out its day camp in the Malibu hills, and refused to rent it to a neo-Nazi group.

Any rational analysis would conclude that the First Amendment's protection takes precedence over a state antidiscrimination statute. But I suspect that in this case, the First Amendment will be the loser. The courts will probably conclude that there's no "rational basis" for a church to object to same-sex marriage, because it is just bigotry motivated by animus (to use a phrase the Court has used when striking down an amendment to the Colorado Constitution).

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