Harriet Bernstein’s and Luisa Paster’s short walk down the aisle on Friday, Oct. 25, 2013, took six years to happen.
The couple was in Paris when they heard the news that New Jersey would start recognizing same-sex marriages. They had planned to have a wedding ceremony in New York when they returned home from their trip, but they quickly changed their venue to Ocean Grove, the place they have made their home.
“This isn’t just us getting married,” said Luisa. “It’s a community joy.”
Jeanne LoCicero, the deputy legal director of the ACLU of New Jersey and one of the lawyers who represented them in a civil rights case, is an ordained certified celebrant and officiated the ceremony before a room full of longtime friends at the Starving Artist Café in Ocean Grove.
Both cried as they exchanged vows.
“I fell in love with you the weekend we met in the Poconos, when you made snow angels in the snow and during our cross country ski adventure,” Harriet said. “I love you still, my dearest friend.”
“All along this road, my admiration and respect for you has grown and my love for you has flourished,” Luisa said.
Harriet and Luisa met at a retreat in the Poconos. Their love was the easy part. Joining together legally would prove much harder, they discovered.
In 2007, shortly after the state passed the civil unions law, Harriet and Luisa booked the Ocean Grove Pavilion for their ceremony. They put down their deposit in-person without incident, but days later, they learned that the facility would not have them. Even though the pavilion’s owners advertised the facility as available to members of the public, it would not allow a same-sex couple to have a civil union there.
The ACLU of New Jersey took on their case. As a result, the New Jersey Division on Civil Rights issued a finding that the owners of the pavilion, the Ocean Grove Camp Meeting Association, had discriminated against them based on their sexual orientation. The wave of support for Harriet and Luisa and for Ocean Grove’s vibrant LGBT community in Ocean Grove turned into Ocean Grove United, a group dedicated to building respect among all of the diverse members of the beach-front town.
During the summer of 2013, Ocean Grove United brought the community together even closer. The Ocean Grove Camp Meeting Association needed funding to rebuild the pavilion after Hurricane Sandy, and Ocean Grove United – headed by Harriet and Luisa – stepped up to help. The groups held a fundraiser together, and Ocean Grove United invited members of the Camp Meeting Association to hear gay teenagers discuss bullying to build mutual understanding and good will.
On Oct. 25, friends of Harriet and Luisa cheered as the couple sliced through a two-tier chocolate cake baked by Confections of a Rock$tar in Asbury Park.
“You’ve gone through a civil union and now you have marriage in New Jersey!” said Nancy Larson in her toast to the couple.