Thursday, September 20, 2007

Ocean Grove obliged to allow civil unions | Home News Tribune Online

OcOcean Grove obliged to allow civil unions
Home News Tribune Online 09/20/07
The Ocean Grove Camp Meeting Association has filed a federal lawsuit to prohibit the use of its boardwalk pavilion for the performance of civil unions between lesbian and gay couples. The maneuver is a response to a state Department of Environmental Protection decision that stripped the group of its tax-exempt status because it refuses to make the pavilion available to all public organizations or individuals on an equal basis.
Ordinarily, the Methodist-owned-and-operated seaside community would be within its constitutional and statutory authority to refuse the performance of same-sex civil unions on its property. Religious groups enjoy the legal power to decide how their properties are used, even to the extent that they may discriminate against groups or activities that run counter to religious doctrine.
The problem for the association is that it surrendered those protections the very moment it accepted any federal funds for the support of its public spaces. First came the sum of $250,000 for repair of its boardwalk and the roof of its Great Auditorium following a 1992 storm, and later some additional public monies for replenishment of its beaches. The association also received a $500,000 tax break as part of a DEP Green Acres program that encourages private spaces to be used for public purposes.
"It is clear that the pavilion is not open to all persons on an equal basis," DEP Commissioner Lisa Jackson wrote to the association on Monday. Exactly.
Since the DEP is the agency with which the association had an agreement — a pact it has now broken — agency heads are well within their jurisdiction to repeal the tax break.
It no doubt is true that same-sex civil unions are anathema to church leaders, and to see them performed on church property could only stir bad blood. But as the old saying goes, the association can't have its cake and eat it, too. Taxpayer support is tied to certain strings; it's too late for Ocean Grove to cut them back.
All of this said, the motives of the couples who've sued to hold civil unions don't seem entirely pure; there are plenty of other locations along the beachfront where their ceremonies can be conducted. In fact, they take place all the time. Rather, the legal challenge looks more like a way to poke a stick in the eyes of church leaders. For a group that seeks tolerance, it would be wise and a lot more compassionate to display a bit of their own.

No comments: