- (Photo: Reuters/Joshua Roberts)
A Roman Catholic diocese in Massachusetts that refused to sell a historic mansion to a gay couple is facing mounting legal pressure.
Massachusetts' Attorney General Martha Coakley recently filed a brief in support of the gay couple who are suing the Diocese of Worcester alleging discrimination.
Filed before superior court earlier this month on behalf of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, Coakley argued that the diocese's actions constituted "sexual orientation discrimination."
"The commonwealth's compelling interest in protecting gays and lesbians from discrimination derives from their status as a politically vulnerable minority that has suffered a history of discrimination, which continues to this day," reads the brief in part.
"… though the diocesan defendants assert a sincerely held religious belief, their free exercise claim fails the rest of the compelling interest test, and they are not entitled to an exemption."
The Massachusetts Office of the Attorney General provided The Christian Post with a press release sent out last Thursday, wherein Coakley stated that her office respects the freedom of religion.
"Our laws provide important protections for religious organizations and people of faith. … These laws also strike a balance between religious freedoms and the rights of individuals to be free from discrimination," said Coakley.
"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."
A couple years ago, James Fairbanks and Alain Beret sought to purchase a historic mansion in Northbridge that the Worcester Diocese used as a nonprofit church-affiliated retreat center.
According to Fairbanks and Beret, although the diocese initially accepted their offer for a sale in spring 2012, the Catholic officials changed their minds and ended negotiations.
The alleged reason came through a leaked email in which diocesan officials expressed concern that gay marriages might be held at the mansion, reported Lisa Wangsness of the Boston Globe.
"The couple sued the diocese in September 2012. The parties moved for summary judgment last month, and oral arguments are scheduled for April 22," wrote Wangsness.
Gavin Reardon, attorney for the Worcester Diocese, told CP that the decision to reject Fairbanks and Beret's offer had to do with finances rather than sexual orientation or gay marriage.
"From the diocese's perspective, this is a failed real estate sale and really doesn't have anything to do with discrimination," said Reardon.
"The negotiations had ceased prior to any information about the possibility of same-sex marriages being conducted at the property."
Reardon said that Fairbanks and Beret had "made an offer for approximately half as much money for less than the whole property and the diocese rejected that offer."
"These people never came up with the money," said Reardon, who added that the leaked email had been sent out two days after the deadline for negotiations on the mansion.
Reardon also told CP that both the Worcester Diocese and the plaintiffs are seeking a summary judgment, which means they are requesting a decision by the judge without a trial based on the facts already present.