NORTHBRIDGE, Mass. – A gay couple filed a lawsuit Monday against the House of Affirmation, Inc, an affiliate of the Worcester Diocese of the Catholic Church, claiming discrimination.
James Fairbanks and Alain Beret of Sutton filed the lawsuit in Worcester Superior Court. Fairbanks and Beret had been in negotiations with the church to purchase a 44-room historic home on Hill Street – now known as Oakhurst and once the House of Affirmation - in Northbridge.
The men, who have been together for 34 years and married since 2004, had planned to restore the mansion and its gardens and open it up to public events such as weddings and showers. However, they said the church blocked the sale for fear gay wedding would be held at the site.
Carvajal & Nielson of Worcester, representing Fairbanks and Beret, held a press conference Monday morning in front of Worcester Superior Court to announce the suit. The Massachusetts Fair Housing Center (MHFC) joined the law firm in filing the suit.
Attorney Sergio E. Carvajal said the four-count suit charges discrimination in violation of Mass. General Laws, based on their sexual orientation. "Discriminating agaisnt a person who is gay is no different than discriminating against a person who is black, Latino, Jewish or famele,'' Carvajal said. "It is wrong and it is illegal."
The complaint is based, in part, on a thread of messages sent to the couple, one from Monsignor Thomas Sullivan to the broker, which says: "I just went down the hall and discussed it with the bishop. 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."
In addtion to the House of Affirmation and the Worcester Diocese, the suits includes the Diocesan Bishop, the Most Rev. Robert McManus, the Rev. Monsignor Thomas J. Sullivan, Eastern Alliance Realty, LLC of Shrewsbury, the ageny for the sale, and its principals, LiSandra Rodriguez-Pagan and Angel L. Pagan.
Carvajal said his clients seeks protection from discrimination for others in the future, and unspecified comensatory and punitive damages.
Ray Delisle, communcations director for the diocese, said the church could not comment on a lawsuit.
A statement released by the diocese states: "Given the fact that a lawsuit has been filed in Worcester today regarding the property in Whitinsville which previously housed the Oakhurst Retreat Center, all requests for comment are being referred to Reardon and Reardon located in Worcester. Since neither the Diocese of Worcester nor any of its directors have been served with a copy of the suit, we cannot comment on any specifics."
"It's simply a faled real estate deal and we expect to demonstrate that in court," said church attorney Atty. Gavin Reardon. "It's not a case of discrimination agaisnt gay persons, and the Diocese looks forward to demonstrating that in court.''
Reardon continued, "the buyers could not come up wth the financing; they tried to change the terms of the sale, never had a purchase and sales agreement, and the renegotiation would have cost the Diocese time and expense... it became apparent the deal could not be done.''
Previously, the church has said the couple’s finances soured the deal. Beret said financing was never an issue.