If they really cared about Ocean Grove…
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.
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).