This is one of those controversies that has been mischaracterized for almost five years. Ironically, while the facts of this case are often misstated by the religious right, the parties to the case mutually submitted the matter to a summary decision. That means that the facts were undisputed and the parties sought a determination of applicable law. The written decision is here.
These are the (condensed) facts:
- The “Pavilion” was owned by the church but was not on church grounds.
- The facility was used primarily for church programming but was made available for private weddings for a fee based solely on availability.
- The facility advertised itself as a wedding venue without disclosing any views on marriage.
- In 1989, the church applied for a not-for-profit real estate tax exemption.
- The exemption was actually opposed by the township on the grounds that the applicant was a religious organization. At a public hearing, in September of 1989, the church represented that the facility would be available for public use without reservation.
- Thereafter, the tax exemption was approved explicitly conditioned on “equal access” and compliance with applicable non-discrimination laws.
- In 2007, the church would not permit a lesbian couple to use the facility for a commitment ceremony.
The administrative law judge found that the facility violated the law against discrimination by a public accommodation when they refused to allow a lesbian couple’s commitment ceremony. The fact that the facility was owned by a church is irrelevant
In other words, if a Christian Identity church purchased a restaurant they would be required to serve Jews and blacks. Their white supremacist beliefs are irrelevant.
As a postmortem, the church changed the status of the facility to a religious organization years ago and it is exempt from real estate taxes again. It is no longer used as a public accommodation. The plaintiffs held their commitment ceremony elsewhere. The judge found no malice and awarded no damages.
In spite of all of the applicable facts, Alliance Defense Fund is in a huff; insisting that the church could not be forced to hold the event. National Organization for Marriage continues to mindlessly assert that this case serves as a “consequence” of marriage equality in spite of the fact that New Jersey doesn’t recognize same-sex marriages.
One interesting passage in the ruling demonstrates the judge’s frustration with ADF’s bullshit:
While a motion for summary decision is not the place for fact finding, neither may an opponent of the motion blunt summary decision with bald oppositional statements, Brill, supra, 142 N.J. 520. Respondent filed a certification repeatedly referring to a “Wedding Ministry.” Yet, respondent’s interrogatory answers concede that it created no writing on the subject before March 2007, though weddings at this location had been conducted for at least ten years. There is no indication that couples, particularly those that chose secular vows, or that were of other faiths, were ever told that they were participating in a ministry.