Or..."Diocese of Worcester opens electronic mouth and inserts electronic foot."
If you're going to discriminate against a potential purchaser of property in violation of a state law, you really shouldn't let them know that you're doing it. But apparently the Diocese did exactly that.
I actually read about this last week and assumed someone else would cover it but since nobody seems to have done so (that I can tell), I figured I might as well go ahead. In the scheme of things this particular controversy is a minor one but it does present some interesting issues. So follow below the Great Orange Squiggle of Doom...if you're so inclined.
Oakhurst is a 44-bedroom mansion in the town of Northbridge, a suburb of Worcester, MA, currently owned by the Roman Catholic Diocese of Worcester. For whatever reason the diocese decided they no longer wanted to own the property and placed it on the market.
James Fairbanks and Alain Beret, a gay couple, decided to purchase the property with a plan to convert it into a banquet facility. Apparently they have been successful with similar conversion properties in the past. The building is listed as a historic resource though presumably though presumably not because of this:
Speaking of reprehensible, Oakhurst is perhaps best known as the former House of Affirmation, a treatment home for pedophile priests, which closed amid scandal in the late 1980s.Fairbanks and Beret made an offer through the listing broker after doing a fair amount of due diligence (which included spending some money on inspections and so forth) and apparently had the support of local planning agencies. Things were moving along; in order to allay fears that they might not be able to support the original asking price and renovations costs, at the broker's suggestion they made a counter offer for a lower dollar amount and less than the entire 24-acre parcel surrounding the mansion.
Suddenly they were informed that the Diocese was taking the property off the market because they had "other plans." The prospective purchasers were duly informed of this by email. What they were also informed of was the following:
As noted, if you're going to discriminate, you should cover your tracks. Inadvertently attached to the email rejecting the counter offer is an email from Msgr. Sullivan to the diocesan broker:Some folks don't get the whole "trim your messages of unwanted thread" thing.
“I just went down the hall and discussed it with the bishop,” Msgr. Sullivan wrote. “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. 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.”
While there is no federal law prohibiting discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation, it happens that Massachusetts has a particularly robust anti-discrimination law, which (as of July 1) includes not only sexual orientation but gender identity and expression as well. According to the web site of Massachusetts Gay and Lesbian Advocates and Defenders (GLAD), when it comes to real estate...
The housing laws are intended to prohibit discrimination by those engaged in most aspects of the business of listing, buying, selling, renting or financing housing, whether for profit or not. Most often, these claims involve a refusal by an owner, landlord or real estate broker to sell, or lease, or even negotiate with a person about the housing they desire to obtain. But other practices are forbidden, too, such as inquiring into or making a record of a person’s sexual orientation or gender identity or marital status; or discriminating with respect to mortgage loans.Massachusetts was in fact only the second state to add sexual orientation to its anti-discrimination statutes having done so in 1989.
Although the state law does contain some limited exceptions for religious institutions, for example in hiring people for specifically religious-related positions, the laws governing the sale of real estate on the open market don't include such exceptions. The only such exemptions pertain to leasing of rooms in a living unit or to leasing a unit in a one- or two-family home.
So not only has the diocese put it on record that they are discriminating against a gay couple, the broker is now complicit in this illegal action. I sort of feel sorry for them. Oh wait...no I don't.
One of the issues that comes to mind here is that while a religious institution is entitled to espouse its own point of view and to treat internal matters, and its adherents, as it deems appropriate, once it enters the world of commerce it ceases to have that right and becomes just another business.