A Portland business that claims its reputation nosedived after it turned away an LGBTQ customer based on orders from Holy Rosary Church filed a $2.3 million lawsuit this week against the church. Ambridge Event Center rented out a large space at 1333 N ...
A Portland business that claims its reputation nosedived after it turned away an LGBTQ customer based on orders from Holy Rosary Church filed a $2.3 million lawsuit this week against the church.
Ambridge Event Center rented out a large space at 1333 N.E. Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd. to the public for conventions, weddings and other parties, according to the lawsuit. The business leased the space from the building’s owner, Holy Rosary Church, and was under “strict orders” laid out in a “morals clause” to turn away business from the gay and lesbian community, the suit states.
In February 2015, the Ambridge Event Center followed the church’s orders by telling an African American LGBTQ support group, the PFLAG Portland Black Chapter, that it couldn't rent out the space for the group’s annual party, according to the suit and media coverage at the time.
After a spate of bad press, Ambridge Event Center claims that government agencies and businesses not associated with the LGBTQ community wanted nothing to do with the event center, the suit says.
According to news articles at the time, the event center apologized to the PFLAG Portland Black Chapter days later and offered to hold the party for free. According to the lawsuit, the event center also tried to restore its reputation in other ways, “going so far as to hire an events coordinator, Mr. Gary Sorrels, who is openly gay.”
Within a few weeks, Holy Rosary Church sent the event center a notice to vacate, the suit claims.
Sia Rezvani, a Portland attorney representing the church, declined comment, citing the pending litigation.
The suit claims the church ousted Ambridge Event Center from the space in retaliation for hiring Sorrels “and because Ambridge had chosen to associate itself with the LGBTQ community.”
Ambridge Event Center is now defunct. The lawsuit seeks more than $1.8 million in lost income, plus reimbursement for property taxes it was forced to pay and money the center claims it spent on property improvements.
Oregon law forbids businesses from discriminating based on sexual orientation, and state officials have enforced that law with teeth. That’s evidenced by the long-running battle between Sweet Cakes Melissa and the state, which in 2015 ordered the owners of the now-shuttered Gresham bakery to pay $135,000 to a lesbian couple who wanted to buy a wedding cake but were refused service.
No complaint was filed against Ambridge Event Center or Holy Rosary Church for rejecting the PFLAG group’s request to use the space for a party, according to the Oregon Bureau of Labor and Industries, which fields such complaints.
Christine Lewis, the labor bureau's legislative director, said she couldn’t give a blanket answer as to whether churches in Oregon can legally refuse to allow gay groups to rent out their spaces. That depends on “the unique facts of each case,” she said. She also pointed to an exception in the state’s anti-discrimination law that allows religious groups to discriminate based on sexual orientation under some circumstances.
According to ORS 659A.006, a church can discriminate based on sexual orientation by disallowing a group to use its facilities 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.”
The suit was filed in Multnomah County Circuit Court. Read the lawsuit here.
-- Aimee Green
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