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If they really cared about Ocean Grove…

Timothy Kincaid

December 14th, 2009

Anti-gay activists may be on the verge of losing another argument… by winning it.

Anti-marriage activism has no legitimate intellectual principle from which to argue. Appeals to tradition, religion, and “the children, the children” may sound compelling in an emotional TV ad, but they are simply cover for the fact that there is no logical reason that equality under the law should be denied to gay people other than animus.

So anti-gay activists tell stories, tales, and myths to portray gay people as aggressors and good God-fearing church folk as their helpless victims. Of course, they make strategic adjustments to their stories – what an objective observer might call “lying through their teeth” – but they try to keep at least a kernel of truth so that they can’t be accused of just making poop up.

One of the favorite stories that anti-gays like to tell is that of a church in New Jersey that lost its tax exempt status because it wouldn’t conduct gay marriages.

Here’s the tale from the Manhattan Declaration:

In New Jersey, after the establishment of a quasi­marital “civil unions” scheme, a Methodist institution was stripped of its tax exempt status when it declined, as a matter of religious conscience, to permit a facility it owned and operated to be used for ceremonies blessing homosexual unions.

And from the National Organization for Marriage’s infamous “gathering storm” ad:

“I am part of a New Jersey church group punished by the government because we cannot support same-sex marriage.”

In fact, you’ll hardly find a litany of imagined aggrievances that anti-gays chant that does not have some version of this tale. Of course, none of them tell the truth.

The facts are that the Ocean Grove Camp Meeting Association owns a small beachside town in New Jersey. Although Ocean Grove has many areas that are restricted for religious use, for decades the beach, the boardwalk, and a pavilion have been open to the public.

As part of the state’s Green Acres program, those who make their land open to all residents get special property tax benefits denied to other property owners. And so those areas that were public use (but not the private religious property) had received exemptions.

However, when the Association decided that the pavilion was a religious building that could only be used for heterosexual ceremonies, and not gay ceremonies, they no longer qualified for the exemption and the pavilion lost its special status. While the beach and the boardwalk remained privileged and received preferential treatment, the pavilion was treated like the rest of the Association’s property.

But all of that could change.

An added provision to the proposed New Jersey marriage equality bill would exempt churches, and church-affiliated organizations like the Camp Meeting Association, from having to provide services to same-sex couples. And further, it bars the state from punishing those religious organizations that so discriminate.

Which means that the Ocean Grove Camp Meeting Association could return to making their pavilion open to wedding ceremonies for everyone – Hindus, Muslims, Wiccans, Atheists, and Methodists – everyone except gay folk.

And you know what? I’m OK with that.

So here’s an offer to all of those anti-gay activists who have been telling the world that they are all so so so so very concerned about the Methodists in New Jersey: Support the marriage bill and you can get your ‘special rights’ back for the Ocean Grove pavilion. And we won’t even complain about it.

Fair enough?

What do you say?

UPDATE: The language of the section is as follows. The amendment starts at 1b.:

5. (New section) 1a.1 No member of the clergy of any religion authorized to solemnize marriage and no religious society, institution or organization in this State shall be required to solemnize any marriage in violation of the free exercise of religion guaranteed by the First Amendment to the United States Constitution or by Article I, paragraph 4 of the New Jersey Constitution.

1b. No religious society, institution or organization in this State serving a particular faith or denomination shall be compelled to provide space, services, advantages, goods, or privileges related to the solemnization, celebration or promotion of marriage if such solemnization, celebration or promotion of marriage is in violation of the beliefs of such religious society, institution or organization.

c. No civil claim or cause of action against any religious society, institution or organization, or any employee thereof, shall arise out of any refusal to provide space, services, advantages, goods, or privileges pursuant to this section. No State action to penalize or withhold benefits from any such religious society, institution or organization, or any employee thereof, shall result from any refusal to provide space, services, advantages, goods, or privileges pursuant to this section.

d. Nothing in this act shall be construed to limit the effect of section 2 of P.L.1979, c.428 (C.18A:35-4.7).

Comments

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Lindoro Almaviva
December 14th, 2009 | LINK

LOL!

Tony
December 15th, 2009 | LINK

I don’t see how you could be ok with this arrangement. If churches in NJ can discriminate Against us in the public sphere with public tax dollars, we are carving out an exception for one group no one else has to follow. Should gays who own such property be able to exclude Christians? Of course not! Can Christian doctors refuse to help us? Can Christian shopkeepers refuse to sell to us? What will Muslims demand? Where does it stop?

We deserve to be just as free from discrimination in the public sphere as everyone else. Do we really think so little of ourselves that we are ok with giving that up?

Leo
December 15th, 2009 | LINK

The way this situation has been presented by the anti-gay crowd has been abysmally dishonest.

The generally liberal NJ courts sided with OG Camp Meeting Association, upholding their right to deny the couple access to the pavilion, but yet they still want to play the victim card over a property tax abatement that they’re clearly no longer entitled to.

A side note that the NOM holy rollers fail to mention, is that the actual Methodist church in Ocean Grove, St. Paul’s, sided with the lesbian couple against the OG Camp Meeting Association.

The fact that the Camp Meeting Association was at odds with many actual Methodists living and attending church in the community and that Methodists in OG area are not of one mind on the matter is never acknowledged.

This was never the simple gays versus religion. It was a broad coalition of churches, businesses, (including the local chamber of commerce) and community groups that took the pro-gay side in this.

Richard Rush
December 15th, 2009 | LINK

While I would not want the church forced to sanction same-sex civil unions or marriages as a condition of receiving preferential tax treatment, I think the pavilion should be available to everyone. It seems to be really bad precedent to agree that gay couples can be the one exception to a law requiring the pavilion be open for ceremonies to everyone as a condition for preferential treatment.

I’ve been to Ocean Grove, NJ, walked around the town, including the boardwalk, and had lunch at a sidewalk cafe. If you visited the town you would never know that you were on church owned property if someone didn’t tell you or you read it on a sign. It is one of the nicer resort towns along the Jersey shoreline. The pavilion is an open air structure along the public boardwalk that anyone can stroll through (you almost cannot avoid it as it is really more on the boardwalk than along the boardwalk). Even the American Spectator acknowledged the perceptual issue by writing, “But many Ocean Grove residents, ensconced in beautiful inns and upscale beach gift shops, are unaware of their resort community’s church ties” (see the third link below).

But the Christian liars have been characterizing the Ocean Grove controversy as being centered on the use of a private church “camp” or “campground,” as you can read in the linked articles below.

http://www.catholicnewsagency.com/new.php?n=10448

http://www.lifesitenews.com/ldn/2007/sep/07091902.html

http://spectator.org/archives/2007/07/06/victorian-ocean-groves-new-gro

Clay
December 15th, 2009 | LINK

An admirable effort to be conciliatory and reasonable, but I think you’re wrong. Equal access to civil marriage is meaningless unless all civil marriages are treated as equal.

Civil partnerships like ours in the UK are often mocked in the US as second-class, perhaps because the phrase sounds like nothing more than a commitment ceremony, with cheesy original poems and flowers in our hair.

But UK civil partnerships bring full legal equality to civil marriage – tax, pensions, inheritance, immigration, etc – and they are backed by proper anti-discrimination legislation – covering employment, public services, adoption etc. If a religious adoption agency won’t consider same-sex couples as adoptive parents, it loses its license. Apart from churches per se, any venue licensed for marriages also has to allow civil partnerships, or it loses its license. A civil registrar cannot refuse to conduct a civil partnership.

It looked to some like a cop-out, but calling same-sex legal partnerships “civil partnerships” defused any “defense of marriage” arguments. Except for a small fringe, there’s now no issue. All major parties are agreed. The Conservatives’ (somewhat woolly) proposals to give incentives to married people include civil partnerships.

Yes, I would like to be “married” – and am considered as such in the real world even though that’s not the word on the certificate. What’s more important, though, is equal civil rights. Without that, “marriage” is just a feel-good word.

Matt
December 15th, 2009 | LINK

The exemption in the NJ Senate bill troubles me. The only plus side is that it was offered by a Republican (Sen. Baroni) and enabled him to vote “yes” in committee.

However, this is reminiscent of the Boy Scout cases in Philadelphia and California (SD, I believe) where the Scouts–now defined (thanks to the Dale case) as a anti-gay “speech” group–lost their “special rights” to use public spaces (tax-payer owned) for little or no money in municipalities that had strict non-discrimination laws, where other groups and individuals had to pay the normal rates.

NJ has a very progressive public accommodations statute that prohibits discrimination on the basis of–among others–sexual orientation. The OG pavilion gets a tax break that comes out of the pocket of every NJ tax payer. However, not every tax payer is granted access to this space???

You KNOW that if Garden State Equality owned a banquet hall on the shore on tax-subsidized land and Ms. Gallagher was denied access for a straights-only event, there’d be a lawsuit in a microsecond.

Elizabeth
December 15th, 2009 | LINK

Would they still be able to recieve their special tax status for being open to the public? I would not be OK with that in that case – it explicitly says that gays don’t really count as public citizens, that everyone else can enjoy the property that their tax dollars go to maintain, but not the gays.

But yeah, ultimately it’s a small thing and I guess worth a compromise in order to get marriage rights. I just worry that if we start making too many compromises to get to marriage we’ll end up at a state where gay marriages are still second class, even if they have the same title.

Ben in Oakland
December 15th, 2009 | LINK

Though generally I think any kind of anti-gay legal specialness is against all reason and fairness, I am none-theless inclined to support the idea.

1) It gets us what we want, so it is practical.

2) There still remains free speech and freedom of activity. That enables us to point out very clearly those who discriminate, and not give them our dollars, and to encourage our friends and families not to patronize those businesses and organizations.

Jarred
December 15th, 2009 | LINK

I think this is a bad idea. I foresee every business that wants to discriminate against same sex couples in any way trying to do so by representing themselves as a “church-affiliated organization.”

Timothy (TRiG)
December 15th, 2009 | LINK

No. No. In a fair society, you do not get special rights merely because you have an imaginary friend.

TRiG.

Dan
December 15th, 2009 | LINK

The above analysis is legally correct, but politically irrelevant. Frank Schubert has laid out the way he wins: he appeals to the selfish interests of the majority. Our side hasn’t. Accordingly, the self-interested voter understands that he risks nothing personally by voting against equality. At this point, all Schubert has to do is raise some specter of a some risk for voting in favor.

Schubert can use the Ocean Grove example or David Parker’s 5-year old dispute over a schoolbook or a single sentence from an NPR interview with sa sex educator, whatever is handy. It doesn’t have to be entirely true, only plausible.

So regardless of the scope of the religious exemption in any particular legislation, Schubert et al will always use these anecdotes successfully – at least until we wise up and present self-interested arguments for voting pro-gay. Since the wording of the legislation is politically irrelevant, we might as well go for the most narrow exemption possible.

Aconite
December 15th, 2009 | LINK

I’m perfectly okay with churches, synagogues, mosques, whatever being free to marry or not marry any couples they choose. I’m not okay with such institutions being permitted to circumvent civil rights laws on the grounds of religious belief.

If the amendment passes in its current wording, and if the wording allows religious institutions to deny equal rights to same-sex couples on grounds of belief (I’m not a lawyer, so I’m not certain the amendment would actually allow such institutions to do so in cases where they take public monies in return for public access), would that not also mean places like Ocean Grove could take public funds and deny, say, Jewish or interracial couples the ability to use the grounds because that offends their religious sensibilities? The wording does not appear to limit discrimination to same-sex marriage, but appears to cover any marriage that “violates [their] belief.”

The wording of the amendment also concerns me because it seems to permit religious institutions to deny marriage benefits–like insurance–to employees with marriages the institution doesn’t approve of. How would you like to discover the Catholic hospital you work at refuses to recognize your divorce and subsequent remarriage?

Richard Rush
December 15th, 2009 | LINK

Dan, you are absolutely correct. We will continue to lose these battles “…until we wise up and present self-interested arguments for voting pro-gay,” as you said.

We’ve become so conditioned to defending against attacks that we don’t seem to know how else to operate. We need to persuasively articulate how full equality for gays would benefit all of society. Unfortunately I’m not sure that this can be conveyed in 30 second ads. I’m inclined to think it would require a broader education effort over time.

If BTB would do a posting on this topic, I’m sure commenters would add lots of good ideas.

cedlitz
December 15th, 2009 | LINK

I am NOT OK with exempting the Methodists in this case. The Green Acres Program in NJ provides money for the development of parks and other such facilities. A condition of the granting of such monies is that the facility be open to ALL. An example is that towns which use Green Acres funds to build (or improve, even)soccer fields cannot limit their use to town residents. If the Methodists (& I am a former Administrative Board Member of a NJ Methodist Church)reneged on the deal, their ownership of that property should not be sufficient to grant them tax free status. Don’t accept State money if you don’t want to play by the rules!

Charlie
December 16th, 2009 | LINK

No way. I am sick and tired of church groups getting off easy on this. If you want to take advantage of the benefits then you need to abide by the rules. It is plain and it is simple.

Ephilei
December 16th, 2009 | LINK

So would the Ocean Grove church’s original contract now be illegal under this amendment? Originally, they were obliged to allow public use. Now, no church can be obliged to allow all weddings. Since a wedding is a public use, they conflict. Unless all weddings become exempt from being performed in public spaces.

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