New Jersey Initiates Marriage Equality, But Battle for Permanence Begins

October 7, 2013

New Jersey Coalition to Preserve and Protect Marriage leaders at a press conference

Anti-marriage equality organizations have formed the New Jersey Coalition to Preserve and Protect Marriage as LGBT advocates seek to legalize equal marriage rights. Once again, Catholics are on center stage as the debate over marriage equality intensifies in that state from both judicial and legislative angles.

The Coalition includes a handful of conservative organizations, as well as the Knights of Columbus State Council, the New Jersey Catholic Conference, and the National Organization for Marriage which has close Catholic ties. On Top Magazine reports Coalition members are already unleashing anti-gay remarks, with a Knights leader comparing marriage equality to polygamy and incest, as others have done in the past. As for alternatives, the Coalition echoes Governor Chris Christie in calling for a state referendum on the issue.

The anti-marriage equality effort is in response to a  judge’s September 27th court order that New Jersey issue marriage licenses to same-gender couples beginning October 21. Judge Mary Jacobson claimed same-gender couples would be denied equal protection under the law if the state continued with merely civil unions, as they would be unable to receive federal benefits in the wake of the US Supreme Court’s decisions in June.

Governor Chris Christie, a Catholic, has appealed the ruling to the state’s Supreme Court. With 2016 presidential aspirations, Christie has attempted to welcome LGBT rights in a broader sense and continue opposing marriage that would appeal to both moderates and Republicans respectively.

Judge Jacobson’s court order comes as the legislative side heats up as well. NJ.com reports on reactions from pro-equality leaders who continue working on passing a marriage law, even as legal battles remain:

“Advocacy groups and Democratic state officials reacted quickly, cheering Jacobson’s decision and urging Christie to let it stand unchallenged. And vowing to fight it if Christie did appeal…

“We have been saying it for months and it stands true today: through litigation or legislation, we will win the dignity of marriage this year,” said Troy Stevenson, executive director of Garden State Equality. “We just won the first round through litigation and we will continue to fight until we guarantee marriage for all New Jersey couples.”

“Udi Ofer, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of New Jersey, said a coalition of groups pushing for gay marriage would also keep pressing state lawmakers for an override of Christie’s gay-marriage veto last year. The Democratic-controlled Legislature is nearly a dozen votes shy of being able to overturn the veto.”

Nearly 40% of New Jersey’s population identifies as Catholic, meaning the voice of Catholics will matter in speaking out to legislators and voting in a referendum, if one emerges. New Jersey also offers a prime moment for the Catholic hierarchy, Knights of Columbus, and those anti-equality lay people to heed Pope Francis’ new words and stop obsessing over marriage when true injustices abound.

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry


Lesbian Couple Settles Suit With Catholic Couple Over Wedding Reception

August 25, 2012

A lesbian couple has settled a suit against a Catholic couple who refused to contract with the women to host their wedding reception at a resort owned by the Catholics.  The lesbian couple claimed that they were victims of sexual orientation discrimination.

The Burlington Free Press reports the details of the settlement:

“The settlement calls for the Wildflower Inn in Lyndonville to pay $10,000 to the Vermont Human Rights Commission as a civil penalty for violating Vermont’s Fair Housing and Public Accommodations Act, as well as $20,000 in a charitable trust to be disbursed by the couple, according to the Vermont Chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union.”

The owners of the Inn, Jim and Mary O’Reilly, will no longer host weddings there.  In a statement, Jim O’Reilly said:

“The Wildflower Inn has always served — and will continue to serve — everyone in our community. But no one can force us to abandon our deeply held beliefs about marriage.”

Ming and Kate Linsley

The lawsuit was filed in July 2011 by the Vermont Chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union on behalf of Kate and Ming Linsley of New York state.

In a statement at the time the lawsuit was filed, the O’Reillys said they could not “offer our services wholeheartedly to celebrate the marriage between same-sex couples because it goes against everything that we as Catholics believe in.”

They claimed that applying Vermont’ s Fair Housing and Public Accommodations Act–prohibits public accommodations from denying  customers because of sexual orientation–would be a violation of their free speech and freedom of association rights.

The Free Press  article carries reactions from both parties:

“In a statement Thursday, the O’Reillys said they agreed to the settlement ‘to end this ordeal and the threat that the litigation posed’ to the business.

“ ‘We did not bring this lawsuit in order to punish the Wildflower Inn or to collect money,’ said Kate Linsley, in a statement released by the ACLU. ‘We brought this lawsuit because we wanted people to know that what the Wildflower Inn did was illegal. We didn’t want to stay quiet and allow businesses to continue to think they can discriminate.’ ”

An article on LezGetReal.com notes that the Wildflower Inn was being used only as the reception location, not for the actual wedding ceremony itself:

“The Linsleys had planned on having their wedding ceremony at a Buddhist retreat near the inn. When Ming Linsley’s mother Channie Peters tried to book with the Inn, she was informed via email that the inn did not accept same-sex marriage receptions.”

LezGetReal.com also cited Ming Lingsley’s additional reaction to the settlement:

“We’re glad that the Wildflower Inn has recognized that the way we were treated was wrong and that no other family will have to experience what we did. All families should feel welcome at any resort that’s open to the public.”

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry


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