A Kentucky couple instrumental in the legalization of same-sex marriage has the tombstone blues after the Louisville archdiocese denied a design for their cemetery plot.
Greg Bourke and Michael De Leon were among the plaintiffs in Obergefell v. Hodges, the historic 2015 U.S. Supreme Court case that ruled same-sex marriage is constitutional nationwide. As the two recently planned their funeral arrangements, they submitted in October a headstone design to Catholic Cemeteries of the Archdiocese of Louisville that included a depiction of the U.S. Supreme Court Building, along with two linking rings and a cross.
On Monday, a Louisville TV station reported that the rings and SCOTUS building inscriptions were rejected by Catholic Cemeteries. The cross inscription, along with their names and dates, were approved for their shared headstone in St. Michael’s Cemetery, in Germantown. The cemetery also houses several members of Bourke’s family.
In a letter dated March 30, published by WDRB-TV, Javier Fajardo, executive director of Catholic Cemeteries, explained that gravestone inscriptions “are permitted so long as they do not conflict with any teachings of the Church. Your markings are not keeping with this requirement.”
He added that appropriateness decisions are made by the Catholic Cemeteries executive director “in consultation with proper Church authority.”
“A Catholic cemetery is a sacred place that serves the faithful and witnesses to the Good News of Jesus Christ and the hope we share in the resurrection. To this end, it is a place where the signs and symbols of our Catholic faith are displayed with pride and reverence,” wrote Fajardo, who ended the letter by inviting Bourke and De Leon to submit another design for review.
Bourke and De Leon have accused the archdiocese of discrimination. At a “Freedom to Bury” press conference Wednesday organized by Catholics for Fairness, an extension of the LGBT-focued Fairness Campaign, Bourke said the decision to reject their headstone design “feels like deliberate retaliation against our family.”
“I would just like to ask, does anyone think that’s what Jesus would do?” Bourke said at the press conference, describing Jesus instead as calling “all of his followers to be loving, compassionate, welcoming and fully inclusive of all people.”
Statements from the archdiocese provided to local media and The Huffington Post reiterated much of what was said in the letter from Fajardo, adding that “In this case, the judgment was made that the depiction presented was not in keeping with Church teaching about marriage.”
The Louisville Courier-Journal reported Thursday that other gravestones in St. Michael’s Cemetery include images of various sports, Churchill Downs, motorcycles, college references, “and numerous interlocking rings.”
“You see all kinds of things...that are totally unrelated to any church teaching or any church symbolism," Bourke told the Courier-Journal.
Bourke and De Leon married in 2004 in Canada and have two children. They are long-time parishioners at Our Lady of Lourdes Catholic Church in St. Matthews, Ky.
In response to the Supreme Court’s 5-4 decision in Obergefell v. Hodges, Louisville Archbishop Joseph Kurtz, who is president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, called redefining marriage to include couples of the same sex “a tragic error that harms the common good and most vulnerable among us, especially children.”
“Regardless of what a narrow majority of the Supreme Court may declare at this moment in history, the nature of the human person and marriage remains unchanged and unchangeable. … It is profoundly immoral and unjust for the government to declare that two people of the same sex can constitute a marriage,” Kurtz said.
The tombstone inscription isn’t Bourke’s first clash with the Louisville archdiocese. In August, the archdiocese denied his re-application to be a Boy Scout leader; in July, the Boy Scouts of America lifted its ban on gay leaders, though still permitting religious organizations to select leaders on their own criteria. Bourke was previously involved in Scouting before he was asked to resign in 2012 because of his sexual orientation.
[Brian Roewe is a staff writer. Follow him on Twitter: @BrianRoewe.]