A couple who wanted to take a run-down Northbridge mansion off the hands of the Diocese of Worcester and turn into a banquet hall had their bid rejected, despite initially everything seemingly going well, because the Diocese didn’t like the “potentiality of gay marriages” being held on the property. While certainly unpleasant for the couple, this sudden about-turn may also have broken anti-discrimination laws.
As to how the couple came to find out about the reasons behind rejected bid, WBZ-TV reports:
Alain and his partner Jim put in an offer for $1 million for the Oakhurst Retreat and Conference Center and say the Diocese of Worcester accepted it.
But, according to Beret, as they were doing their due diligence and pursuing normal negotiations, the Diocese abruptly stopped the sale.
Beret didn’t know what happened, until he began scrolling through an email between the brokers.
He noticed a message at the bottom of the thread from Monsignor Thomas Sullivan to his realtor.
“I just went down the hall and discussed it with the bishop. Because of the potentiality of gay marriages there….we are not interested in going forward with these buyers. I think they’re shaky anyway. So, just tell them that we will not accept their revised plan and the Diocese is making new plans for the property. You find the language.”
The Diocese is officially denying this is the issue, telling local reporters that they had concerns about the couple’s finances, but unless the Diocese is willing to contend sales brokers invented the message shown above, it would appear that the black and white of the case is that the potential of their being a gay marriage at the Oakhurst Retreat was the deal breaker.
If in fact the Diocese did walk away from the deal because of the “potentiality of gay marriages,” a case could be made that the couple were discriminated against because of their sexual orientation.
For one, the couple says they never in fact revealed that they were in a same-sex relationship, but the Diocese at some point found out on its own and this appears to mark where things turned sour. This, coupled with the fact that same-sex marriages could have been held their regardless of the sexuality of the buyers, lends strength to a discrimination suit, the couple’s lawyer has said.
Their lawyer, Sergio Carvajal, said state law prohibits discriminating against buyers based on sexual orientation, and said the potential for gay marriages would exist regardless of the sexual orientation of the buyer.
“It’s outrageous in this day and age that the church would refuse to sell to someone because of their sexual orientation,” Carvajal said. “It’s reprehensible.”
The exchange of property appears to fall outside of religious exemptions because it is a state transaction and not an internal transaction that would allow for greater deference to religious morality. As such it would seem subject to Massachusetts’ broad anti-discrimination laws, but the threshold of proving a violation in this case would seem very high.
The couple is currently said to be considering available legal options.