Worcester Church’s Refusal To Sell Mansion To Gay Men Results In Lawsuit
A married gay couple from Massachusetts claims the Church has illegally discriminated against them from buying a property owned by an associate of the Diocese of Worcester. Earlier this year, James Fairbanks and Alain Beret, already successful property profiteers, were negotiating the purchase of property owned by the House of Affirmation named Oakhurst, a 44-bedroom mansion built on a vast expanse of land, when the Diocese suddenly nixed the deal.
Now, the couple has filed a complaint stating that the several parties involved violated Massachusetts’ anti-discrimination laws. Representing Fairbanks and Beret are Sergio E. Carvajal and Arose Nielsen, P.C., in collaboration with the Massachusetts Fair Housing Center.
"We filed a complaint based on the actions of not only the Diocese, but also the House of Affirmation and also the broker," said attorney Arose Nielsen. "When someone -- a party, an individual or a business -- tries to limit the sale based on a protected category, then it’s unlawful."
In June, the Diocese decided they did not want the gay men allowing same-sex marriages in their mansion. Fairbanks and Beret immediately sought legal counsel. But they suspected the church of discrimination after they came across an email that once again confirmed the Church’s commitment to homophobia.
In the email, which had been forwarded to Fairbanks and Alain through an email thread with the parties involved, Reverend Monsignor Thomas J. Sullivan asks the realtor to end negotiations because gay marriages might be conducted there.
"I just went down the hall and discussed it with the bishop," said Sullivan in the email. "Because of the potentiality of gay marriages there, something you shared with us yesterday, we are not interested in going forward with these buyers."
"I think they’re shaky anyway," he continued. "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."
As the email states, not only does the Diocese clearly want to cancel the transaction because of the possibility of gay marriages, but also Sullivan actually suggests that the broker should spin his reason into a non-gay related issue.
"It’s a very unique case," continued Nielsen. "It’s not often that you have a situation where the discrimination is so blatant. We fully expect the church to say that it’s within its rights to discriminate."
A lawyer for the Diocese has responded to the Associated Press in an September 12 article, saying, "It wasn’t a case of discriminating against gay people. We didn’t even know they were gay."
In addition, the AP reports that the couple made an original offer of $1 million, which was accepted by the Diocese. Once surveys of the property were completed, however, the couple dropped the price by nearly 50 percent due to the significant amount of money that would be required for building repairs.
Despite the fact that the case might not be heard before a jury until 2014, the couple’s lawyers will participate in "a litigation dance," as Nielsen jokingly called the waiting period.
"Now that the lawsuit is filed, there will be a period of time for the defendant to answer and file whatever they need in court," she said.
Sullivan did not return EDGE’s multiple calls seeking comment regarding the case, but did respond to FOX TV earlier this month, saying about the men, "The loan that they had attempted to get from the bank had failed them." He also alleged in the Telegraph & Gazette that Fairbanks and Alain couldn’t come up with the money.
The couple’s lawyers insist this is not the case, claiming that the men hadn’t even applied for a loan because negotiations were still ongoing.
"Monsignor Sullivan’s public statement that the deal fell through because of a lack of financing is false, and damaging to the reputation of our clients," Nielsen said. "James and Alain are experienced businessmen with the financial means to purchase the property, and their proposal for the rehabilitation of Oakhurst has been enthusiastically welcomed by town officials."
Earlier this month, Beret told The Boston Globe, "I have lived quietly in the mainstream for nearly 60 years, and I expected to continue that, but I will not continue that at the expense of my dignity."