Couple Says Church Wouldn't Let Them Buy Mansion For Fear They'd Turn It Into Gay Wedding Site

Potential homeowners may have a slew of ideas for what they’d do with a house once it changes hands, but is it discrimination to prevent someone from buying a property because of what that home could become after the sale takes place? A gay couple in Massachusetts says that’s the case with a mansion the Roman Catholic Diocese of Worcester is allegedly refusing to sell them.

The two men filed a discrimination suit today saying the church doesn’t want them to turn the home into a gay wedding site, reports the Associated Press.

In the lawsuit, the couple claims negotiations to buy a former retreat center were going on swimmingly when church officials suddenly had a change of heart and pulled out of the proceedings.

The men say the chancellor of the diocese accidentally included them on an email to the church’s broker, citing the reason the sale didn’t go through was because of the “potentiality of gay marriages” happening there in the future. However the church’s chancellor claims the deal fell apart because there were worries that the couple wouldn’t be able to finance the purchase of the home.

Mass. gay couple sues Worcester Diocese for denying opportunity to buy church-owned mansion [Associated Press]

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  1. STXJK says:

    Is sexual orientation a protected class in Massachusetts for Real Estate transactions?

    • Jim M says:

      Yes.

      • lanman04 says:

        Yeah, they just majorly stepped in it.

        State/Fed government tend to take Equal Housing Opportunity law violations very seriously.

        • TuxthePenguin says:

          But as others have said – is it a violation? Nowhere does it state that they didn’t sell it to them because they were gay – the stated reason is for the purpose they would use the house. Would it be illegal if this happened to a straight couple?

          That’s a REALLY interesting question…

          • dulcinea47 says:

            The email they got specifically said it was due to the “potentiality of gay marriages”. It’s still not “b/c the potential buyers are gay” but it’s definitely “b/c of teh gay!” which in my book is close enough.

            • pecan 3.14159265 says:

              I think the sellers could argue that they are against the home potentially being used for gay marriage, which could still happen if a straight couple bought the home and their gay friends got married there. Where they fail epically is that they brought up gay marriages in the first place, and that would only occur to them in the case of the buyers being gay. If they were actually, truly against gay marriages potentially being performed in the home, they wouldn’t be selling the house at all because anyone could buy it and host a gay marriage there.

  2. Torgonius wants an edit button says:

    They really wouldn’t want me to buy the house, then… I’d let people practice ritual cannibalism and worship a zombie if they wanted.

  3. TuxthePenguin says:

    Considering this is basically all the text and information out there… what is the basis of their lawsuit? What, legally, did they do wrong? The Diocese isn’t a governmental agency – its a private citizen in this transaction. And yes, contrary to popular belief, you can discriminate in all sorts of ways when selling something you own (provided you are not a merchant, IIRC from business law, which I doubt applies unless the church buys and sells real estate for profit). That means they can walk away from the deal for any reason – perhaps they didn’t like your yellow shirt that day.

    • TuxthePenguin says:

      NM, Mass. has its own Fair Housing Laws – I knew the federal don’t apply to them, but Mass. might.

      • RandomHookup says:

        Yep, here’s a link to the Mass. Law:

        http://www.mass.gov/mcad/fairhouse.pdf

        • GitEmSteveDaveHatesChange says:

          According to that, they are not violating a law. They fear what they may use the property for. If two gay men plan on turning it into a adult theater that shows only hetero sexual films, the basis isn’t the orientation of the couple, it’s of what the eventual use of the property is.

          My mother sold the family farm years ago, and she turned down more than a few people who wanted to tear down the farm portion and put in town homes. She didn’t care who the people were, she cared about the farm-ness.

          • RandomHookup says:

            It’s quite possible they aren’t discriminating if Mass. law allows a seller to decline a purchase because of the intended use of the property. But they did put themselves in a situation where they are going to have to defend their concerns.

            • GitEmSteveDaveHatesChange says:

              So they will have to prove they have something against gay marriage? It’s a shame Matlock is dead, because I don’t think any lawyer, aside from him or a simply country Hyper Chicken Hyper-Chicken from a backwoods asteroid, could convince a jury that the church doesn’t approve and endorse gay marriage.

          • Gambrinus says:

            Was there any evidence they were going to use it for gay weddings other than the fact that they were gay, though?

    • humphrmi says:

      Selling your car or golf clubs don’t have any special protections. But when you sell real estate, you’d better believe that there are plenty of anti-discrimination laws that apply to sellers, brokers, and bankers. It started with a law back in 1866, the Civil Rights Act of 1866 prohibits refusing to sell real estate based on race. Then there’s Title VIII of the Civil Rights Act of 1968, which prohibits ” discrimination in the sale, rental, and financing of dwellings, and in other housing-related transactions, based on race, color, national origin, religion, sex, familial status”. Some state laws, Massachusetts included, further prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation.

      • Mark702 says:

        It should be pointed out that “sex” isn’t the same as “sexual orientation” so that may change the circumstances in this situation.

      • TuxthePenguin says:

        As someone posted earlier, are they violating the law? I think its an interesting parse – it doesn’t say that they won’t sell because the buyers are homosexual, they are not selling because of what they fear the buyers will use the property for. In that case, would it be illegal to not sell to a straight couple who would use the house for the same purpose?

        • huadpe says:

          Well, the problem is that the only articulable basis they’d have for the concern is discriminatory. That is, they believe the buyer is more likely than another buyer to do something they dislike because the buyer belongs to a protected class.

          Basically, it boils down to “what reason, other than the buyers being gay, led you to have the concern that the couple would host a gay marriage at the house?” The seller won’t have a good answer to that, and they’ll lose.

    • Weekilter says:

      No, you can’t “discriminate in all sorts of ways” because there are laws saying you cannot.

  4. TheMansfieldMauler says:

    Should have told the diocese it would be a home for wayward little boys. They probably would have gotten it for free.

  5. DasGoot says:

    From the original article on it in the Worcester Telegram, here’s the email from Monsignor Sullivan that was attached to their broker:

    “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.”

    The original article is here: http://www.telegram.com/article/20120726/COLUMN01/107269878/0/business

  6. El_Fez says:

    church officials suddenly had a change of heart and pulled out of the proceedings.

    Silly Catholics – don’t they know that the Pull Out Early method is the worst form of birth control?

  7. josephpr says:

    Not much information here, but it caught my ear when I heard this on our local Boston area news, since I am originally from Woostah.

    As the church sells properties, they may often want easements/restrictions. They may also not be entirely bound by fair housing laws if they are selling institutional/commercial properties, rather than residential.

    When we purchased a property (not from the church), there was a restriction that we could not rent to a specific business category within x number of years. If it was an issue, we would not have gone to contract, but they had their reasons, and the right to ask.

    • nbs2 says:

      Agreed. I think I’m going to be siding with the church here – there is no indication that they suddenly became aware of the couple’s homosexiness, and made the decision based on that. Rather, for whatever reason, something spooked some PTB and the command came down to withdraw from negotiations.

      Frankly, if they had stuck to that, I’d be less concerned than I am that they are trying to change the reasoning – they suggests that there may have been some other motive. Still, if the couple really wants the place and has no intention of converting in to a gay marriage center, why not negotiate the restriction into the price? The restriction will lower future value, since it is an encumberance, but I don’t see it being an obstacle if the restriction is clearly defined.

      • huadpe says:

        Is the encumbrance even enforceable?

        Most encumbrances restrict something like division or construction, which would require permitting. But restricting private ceremonies? I’ve never heard of something like that.

  8. InsertPithyNicknameHere says:

    I don’t really understand the stated reason provided by the Diocese. They say they’re concerned the couple wouldn’t be able to finance the purchase. Isn’t that a decision for a bank, and not for the seller of a property?

    • nbs2 says:

      I think they are saying that they were concerned that the couple wouldn’t be able to secure financing.

    • TuxthePenguin says:

      Most sellers will look at your ability to secure financing before spending much time with you, especially if its an expensive home. Why bother talking to someone who only earns $50k when the house is listed for $2.3 million?

    • 808 says:

      At least in my state, a real estate contract can require (1) proof of funds available for mortgage downpayment and (2) a preauthorization-type letter from the lender (this is stronger than the prequal letter). AND the seller’s Realtor can call the buyer’s lender every week if they want for an update on loan progress and final approval.

      All of this is by way of saying that if the diocese wants to invoke financial concerns, one wonders whether its agent availed itself of careful wording in the sales contract?

    • josephpr says:

      Not an unusual circumstance for any property. If I am selling a house, I might pick one offer over another (or reject entirely) if I don’t think they will be able to get financing. That’s why when there are competing offers on a house you want to be paying cash or have pre-approved financing – that way there is less chance of last minute glitch.

  9. NorthAlabama says:

    maybe if they agree only to marry gay catholics. or agree not to marry any gay catholics.

    it seems very strange to me the diocese had no issue with shuffling pedophile priests from parish to parish, in turn enabling the molestation for decades, but heaven forbid a loving couple may want to express their happiness.

    what a f**ked up way to look at life or religion.

    • TuxthePenguin says:

      I’m ultimately sick of the entire priest abuse scandal. Why does it get legs for so long yet the repeated issues of teacher sex scandals never last? I think its more to do with the political orientation of the Catholic church than anything else…

      • TheMansfieldMauler says:

        Yeah, because a teacher bedding a 17 year old 235 lb. football player, who himself is nailing half the cheerleaders, is the same as a priest sticking his holiness into an 8 year old boy’s rear.

      • NorthAlabama says:

        it could be the appearance of hypocrisy from the diocese in freely offering absolution to church leadership, but not others…

      • who? says:

        It’s not about the sex, it’s about the cover up. With the teacher sex scandals, it’s usually about a single teacher who does something, gets caught, and has some sort of consequences. With the catholic church, there’s been a longstanding pattern of the church leadership covering up for one or more priests over long periods of time.

        Human nature being what it is, there will always be isolated instances of adults abusing kids. Like what happened at Penn State, the problem the catholic church has isn’t about the abuse, it’s about the cover up.

      • Bladerunner says:

        Probably because the principals aren’t hiding the abuse, then shifting the abusers around to other schools?

  10. sorta savvy consumer says:

    This goes both ways all the time unfortunately.

    Our church was in the process of looking for land for their new building and found an ideal location. The owner however, indicated they had no interest in selling to a church. The sellers did however, seem to understand the law though and basically told their broker their drop dead price and our church’s offer was just above that, so we got the property.

    Pretty sure the church in this case will be in hot water here.

  11. GitEmSteveDaveHatesChange says:

    In all reality, they could include a simple non-compete clause in the contract, which would mean no one could do marriages on the site as long as the church has a place in the same town.

    • NickRayko says:

      Yes, because the Catholic church is known for marrying teh gheys constantly. They’d lose all that business to the Theoretical Sparkly Homosexy Wedding Dungeon that’s going to end up on this piece of property.

  12. Kuri says:

    Eh, this is like refusing to sell someone a football because it MIGHT be thrown at someone’s face. It’s pure speculation.

    Besides, once the property changes hands, it’s out of the church’s hands as to what is done with it.

  13. jp7570-1 says:

    Use of the site is subject to local zoning regulations, not a group of pedophiles.

  14. MarkFL says:

    Is there any house that could not potentially become the site of gay marriages?

    Is there any buyer who could not potentially use the mansion for gay marriages? (I said “could not,” as opposed to “would not.”)

    Didn’t think so.

  15. scoosdad says:

    Ah, my hometown and stomping grounds. I’ve actually been inside the main building back before it was owned by the Catholic Church. It’s a beautiful place.

    The irony of ironies is that the AP article kindly describes it as a “former Catholic retreat center”. The church used it as a treatment center for pedophile priests.

    The story was first broken here back on July 26:

    http://www.telegram.com/article/20120726/COLUMN01/107269878

    Today’s local coverage:

    http://www.telegram.com/article/20120910/NEWS/120919986/1116

    Link to the court complaint filed today, including copies of the email that was inadvertently forwarded which started the whole thing:

    http://www.telegram.com/assets/pdf/WT17775910.PDF

    What is conveniently left out of a lot of coverage of the story is that it was actually the church’s real estate broker who proposed to cut the selling price as well as the amount of land included with the building to the level which the church claimed proved that the buyers couldn’t really afford it. That happened after an inspection showed deficiencies in the building that would have cost a lot more money than anticipated to remedy. So the church’s broker, in order to move the process along, suggested to the buyers that they cut their offer and suggested by how much.

  16. josephpr says:

    This was on news again tonight – with supposed “smoking gun” email that Diocese didn’t want to sell because of concern about gay marriages on the site, and the email also ended with someting to the effect that “financing is shaky, anyway”.

    Apparently, they wanted to redo the “mansion” into an inn/function venue. I can see where financing might be an issue, as Northbridge is not a bad place, but not on any list of top places to visit, so a destination inn wouldn’t look like a promising business plan to lenders.

    For those of you outside the area, these towns were mill towns in the nineteenth century; some nice homes for the owners/management, then a lot of “working class” houses. I had actually looked at the online listing for this property a while back; while the house may be nice, there was also (unless they split the property up) institutional buildings on the site with less charm than an old Red Roof Inn.

    So, not sure why diocese would object; it wasn’t as if they were taking a church building and using it for something objectionable; it was an old house and some dorms.

    • scoosdad says:

      Right, and everyone here keeps calling it a ‘gay wedding’ center, and it’s not. These two guys opened bed and breakfasts combined with events centers in Vermont and in Barre, Massachusetts previous to this, and this would be their third location doing the same thing. They just happen to be gay. (Not that there’s anything wrong with that, to quote a famous Seinfeld line.)

      My nephew and his wife were married during a beautiful ceremony at the Barre location operated by these two men. Two other services were going on at the same time in other parts of the facility and all of them featured m/f couples. That’s not to say given that this is Massachusetts that there wouldn’t be gay couples being married there, but it’s not marketed as such:

      http://www.harding-allen.com/

  17. Chris Long says:

    Gays want everything changed to suit their Agenda; but when we get to that point, there will be nothing left worth defending. What happens then ? Multicultural Valhalla or meltdown ?

    • NorthAlabama says:

      that pesky civil rights agenda. once gays get them, then everyone else will want them, too. wouldn’t that just be awful for tax-exempt catholic heterosexuals?

    • Difdi says:

      You’re absolutely right. We should abolish all marriages immediately. That way we won’t be discriminating against a protected class since everyone will be affected.

      Gays want equal rights. If your faith is strong, you won’t be worried if people have alternatives. If you’re so threatened by alternatives, how strong can your faith be?

      • infoweasel says:

        Chris, North, take a moment to put aside your ‘black OR white’ thinking and ponder the following:

        Both sides of the aisle and both sides of the ‘gay marriage’ argument are buying into a manufactured argument created by the following assumption:

        Only government licensing creates a valid marriage.

        This is yet another display of what a government-dependent mindset most Americans have bought into, be it ‘D’ or ‘R’.
        There is absolutely no need for the government to be involved in marriage licensing, and yet it is for two purposes: TAXES and to a lesser extend census-taking.

        Without these two things, marriage is simply a social/religious contract between two people which can be enforced through voluntary private contracts joined by both parties. Unfortunately most Americans are trained to think in absolutes and neither side of the aisle would even BEGIN to ponder the idea that gov’t needn’t be involved in a social institution at all.

        • MarkFL says:

          Point 1: Marriage has a huge legal component that includes inheritance law, ownership of property, end-of-life decisions, etc. Those who support gay marriage are simply recognizing this reality, and at least in my case, believe that the institution of marriage is not so incrediby frail that it can’t survive conforming to the modern world. Pretending that it is only for procreation is ludicrous, especially in the 21st century. If this were truly so, there would also be laws to prohibit marriages involving post-menopausal women, people who are sterile (either through birth control accident, or bad luck), and those who have publicly stated they do not wish to have children.

          Point 2: If the government were to get out of the marriage business, there would be few other options except to be married by a member of the clergy. I don’t think I have to go into the potential problems for many people there, and not just atheists. Even as a practical matter, if you had to married in a religious ceremony, you’d have a hard time booking the ceremony.

          • NorthAlabama says:

            all good points.

            we can see again what happens when the recipe calls for 1 part state mixed with 1 part church…

            • MarkFL says:

              WTF? I post some carefully reasoned points in response to someone else’s comments, and I get “all good points?” No name-calling? No dismissing me because of my general political leanings?

              What are you trying to do, break the Internet?

          • infoweasel says:

            Both rebuttals are predicated on the idea that there is no alternative arrangement to the legal matters that marriage involves other than government sanctioning and codifying. As stated in my previous reply, there is NO legal aspect of marriage currently codified by civil law that could not be codified by private contract.

            In addition, I make no argument one way or the other what the purpose of the marriage is, be it for procreation only or something else entirely, and I do not appreciate you putting these words into my mouth by implication.

            Point 2) You assume that people who want to be married ALL want to have a big to-do ceremony about it.
            If government were to get out of the business of marriage, then there would be no need to a marriage ceremony at all unless one wished it. Many people do not wish to be bothered by the trappings of ceremony and wish only to be done with it and move on with their (now married) life. I speak from personal and objective secondhand experience.
            Those who wish to have marriage ceremonies will still do so, be it with clergy or non-clergy presiding. Those who do not wish to will no longer be forced to stand in front of a JotP and waste time and money on a dress/tux/planner/etc.

            • MarkFL says:

              “I make no argument one way or the other what the purpose of the marriage is”

              No, but most who oppose gay marriage cite this purpose. I did not intend to put words in your mouth and apologize if it came across that way. Actually I recognize that your comments didn’t specifically refer at all to gay marriage, but to marriage in general. However, I got on the issue because that’s what the original article was about.

              “You assume that people who want to be married ALL want to have a big to-do ceremony about it.”

              I don’t assume this at all, and I don’t consider it relevant. Neither do most people who oppose gay marriage. I have never heard anyone say that allowing the contract is acceptable if the couple will just forgo a big ceremony. In fact, a civil ceremony conducted by a JP is likely to be a small affair. When my mom married my stepfather, they went to the courthouse and were married by a judge, with just me, Mom’s parents, and maybe 2-3 other people in attendance.

              Perhaps the real solution is to just have all states and the federal government recognize common-law marriage, regardless of the genders of the people involved. Then those who want the ceremony can have the option of doing so. But there still needs to be some sort of documentation to obtain the legal benefits. Otherwise it would become much easier for people to get away with bigamy, green-card marriages, and other abuses, or you could just scan the obituaries and claim to be the spouse of anyone who looked like they might have an estate worth claiming.

              • infoweasel says:

                “Perhaps the real solution is to just have all states and the federal government recognize common-law marriage, regardless of the genders of the people involved.”

                Unfortunately this still assumes that the onus of responsibility for recognizing marriage is upon the government. I argue the opposite, that the burden of responsibility lies with the individual (as it should with most everything in life) to legally square things away with private contracts.

                “But there still needs to be some sort of documentation to obtain the legal benefits.”

                Agreed, private contracts with photo identification of both parties would suffice.

                • MarkFL says:

                  “this still assumes that the onus of responsibility for recognizing marriage is upon the government.”

                  This is because much of the purpose of marriage is for the purpose of dealing with the government — tax benefits, inheritance (think probate), etc.

                  Not being Christian, I don’t worry about such things as being able to receive sacrament, having my children baptized, etc. But for those who do concern themselves with these things, they need to have a marriage recognized by their particular church. If you want the legal benefits, ya gotta deal with the state — although the states do recognize religious services, so in that sense they are more lenient.

                  • NorthAlabama says:

                    many forget that the separation of church and state is to protect the STATE, not the church.

                    religious marriage beliefs need to be removed from civil marriage law, period.

  18. Chris Long says:

    Future use considerations are valid; tell us the legal citations therein, Consumerist !

    Two years after you are done looking, ask me for the answer…

  19. Libertas1 says:

    Who cares?

    Hint: Nobody should.