“Til death do us part” are some of the most sacred words in marriage vows - the commitment to love and honor another through the good and the bad of a full life. And so it is no surprise that some of the most personal and poignant decisions that we make with and for our loved ones is how we honor each other in death - through funeral services, rituals and personal choice such as a headstone.
Greg Bourke and Michael De Leon are lifelong Roman Catholics. They married in Canada in 2004 they courageously challenged Kentucky’s marriage ban and served as plaintiffs in the historic Supreme Court case Obergefell v. Hodges. Additionally, they have been together for over 30 years, raising wonderful children and building an amazing community.
While they successfully won at the Supreme Court in June, they now face another battle. After purchasing a joint burial plot in St. Michael Cemetery in Kentucky, the Archdiocese of Louisville that runs the cemetery denied their headstone design, which included their names, interlocking wedding bands (symbolizing their love and the marriage they so hard fought for), a cross (a symbol of their faith) and an image of the Supreme Court (where they finally acquires the right to validate their love to government and society).
After months of waiting, the letter sent to Bourke and De Leon from the Archdiocese cited the depictions of the Supreme Court building and the use of wedding rings as “not in keeping” with any teachings of the Church.
“The epitaph, those last words on tomb stones, are sacred and personal statements about our lives, faith, accomplishments for ourselves and our loved ones,” said Lisbeth Melendez Rivera, Director of Catholic and Latino Initiatives. “The denial of those words, images, and symbols honors neither love nor faith nor tradition. There is so much room in Pope Francis’ call for mercy and acceptance and in a diverse Catholic community that values its LGBTQ brothers and sisters grace and generosity - instead of the narrow and hurtful decision by the Archdiocese. These two good men of faith deserve better.”
Bourke and De Leonl have lived fulfilling lives, fighting for equality while giving back to their community. The National Catholic Reporter honored them as persons of the year for 2015. Several years ago, Bourke was removed from his position in a Boy Scout troop, but after the lifting the ban on LGBTQ people, his re-application in 2015 was rejected based on a guidance from Archbishop Kurtz, who called the Supreme Court decision on marriage equality “a tragic error.”
Bourke and De Leon plan a "freedom to bury" press conference on Wednesday, May 18 to respond to the archdiocese's decision.
To learn more about HRC’s Catholic Initiative, go to www.hrc.org/catholic.
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