Until now the battle over denying services to queer people has focused mostly on Christian bakers denying wedding cakes to same-sex couples, states denying bathrooms to trans people and state governments allowing religious adoption agencies to withhold kids from same-sex couples. But a fourth type of case has just popped up in Oregon after the Ambridge Event Center recently filed a lawsuit against the Holy Rosary Church for not allowing the Center to rent its church-owned space to PFLAG Portland Black Chapter for an LGBTQ event.
The Ambridge Event Center is a business run on property owned by the Holy Rosary Catholic Church. The Center regularly rents the space to groups looking to hold meetings, weddings and other celebrations.
However, the Center claims that a “morals clause” in its contract with the church forbade it from renting out the space to the gay and lesbian community.
In February 2015, the Portland Black Chapter of Parents and Friends of Lesbians and Gays (PFLAG) ask to hold its annual party at the Ambridge Event Center. The center refused citing the anti-LGBTQ clause in its church contract.
When the PFLAG group began filing a discrimination claim with the Oregon Bureau of Labor and Industries, the Ambridge Event Center apologized and promised “to affirm compliance with the law and … re-train employees.” While the PFLAG group never filed their claim, they reportedly held their event in the Ambridge Event Center space that April.
According to The Oregonian, the Ambridge Event Center recently filed a lawsuit against the Holy Rosary Church which claims that “government agencies and businesses not associated with the LGBTQ community wanted nothing to do with the event center” after their initial refusal of the LGBTQ group.
Furthermore, the suit alleges that the church told the Ambridge Event Center to leave within months after holding the PFLAG group’s party for “(choosing) to associate itself with the LGBTQ community.”
Now the Ambridge Event Center is defunct as a business although the space continues to be rented out by the Holy Rosary Church for (presumably heterosexual) events.
The Oregonian says, “The (Ambridge Event Center’s) lawsuit seeks more than $1.8 million in lost income, plus reimbursement for property taxes the Ambridge Event Center was forced to pay and money the center claims it spent on property improvements.”
An Oregon state law says a church can disallow a group use of their facilities based on sexual orientation if “the use of facilities is closely connected with or related to the primary purposes of the church … and is not connected with a commercial or business activity that has no necessary relationship to the church or institution.”
As such, this case raises lots of interesting questions: Are churches allowed to require business to discriminate on their behalf? How often does a physical space have to be used for religious purposes in order to be “related to the primary purposes of the church?”
We’ll be keeping an eye on this case to see what conclusions the judicial system comes to on these important legal questions.