Top Lawyer in Mass.: Catholic Church Guilty of LGBT Discrimination

Martha Coakley, the commonwealth's attorney general, says the Catholic diocese of Worcester, Mass., wrongfully denied a real estate sale to a gay couple.

BY Michael O'Loughlin

March 19 2014 11:06 AM ET

Alain Beret and James Fairbanks outside of Oakhurst mansion.

A gay couple had dreamed of purchasing an antique mansion to convert it into a bed-and-breakfast and function hall in Northbridge, Mass., until their plans were derailed by the building's owner, the Roman Catholic diocese of Worcester, Mass., according to a story published last week in The Boston Globe.

Now the attorney general of Massachusetts claims the diocese broke the law by denying the sale. She has filed a brief in a court case brought against the diocese by James Fairbanks and Alain Beret, the married couple who said that they were close to a deal in 2012 before the church abruptly changed its mind.

“Our laws provide important protections for religious organizations and people of faith,” Coakley, a Democratic candidate for governor in Massachusetts, said in a statement. “These laws also strike a balance between religious freedoms and the rights of individuals to be free from discrimination. In this case, we believe that this family was unfairly discriminated against by the diocese when it refused to sell them property based on their sexual orientation.”

According to the Globe, Coakley said religious entities are not subject to nondiscrimination policies within their own organization but that real estate transactions are different.

Church leaders said they were afraid the building might be the site of same-sex weddings once converted into an inn, a fear Coakley dismissed.

“The diocesan defendants need not perform, endorse, host, or remain silent concerning what their faith teaches them about the morality of same-sex marriage or homosexuality,” she wrote. “And no reasonable person would think that a wedding that took place on a property no longer owned by a church was endorsed by that church.”

For its part, a lawyer representing the diocese said the sale ultimately fell apart because of a lack of financing.

“They didn’t have money,” James Gavin Reardon Jr. told the Globe. “They renegotiated the deal, and their financing was turned down.”

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