A couple that served as the lead plaintiffs in one of the court cases that prompted last year’s landmark Supreme Court ruling legalizing gay marriage is protesting a decision by the Archdiocese of Louisville to reject parts of their proposed gravestone design.
Greg Bourke and Michael De Leon have been together for 30 years and married in 2004 in Canada. They identify as lifelong practicing Catholics, and last fall, they submitted a proposed headstone design for a joint plot in Louisville’s Saint Michael Cemetery.
The design includes Bourke and De Leon’s names and dates of birth. It also includes an image of a cross, wedding rings and the United States Supreme Court building.
“It means a lot to me to be buried in a Catholic cemetery,” Bourke said. “Saint Michael’s is a stone’s throw from both my grandparents’ homes, and the really important thing is that my parents have cemetery plots they’ve purchased there.”
In a letter dated March 30, Catholic Cemeteries Director Javier Fajardo rejects part of the proposed design. Bourke and De Leon are welcome to have a joint headstone and be buried together, Fajardo wrote. But the image of the Supreme Court and wedding rings will not be allowed on the headstone.
“Inscriptions on grave markers are permitted so long as they do not conflict with any teachings of the Church,” Fajardo wrote. “Your proposed markings are not in keeping with this requirement.”
Chris Hartman of the Fairness Campaign said that argument falls short, when a cursory look at the cemetery includes numerous headstones with secular symbols, including those paying tribute to the University of Kentucky and Harley-Davidson motorcycles.
Hartman said Bourke and De Leon want to be subjected to the same rules as everyone else.
“They’re simply looking for the same dignity that everyone else has in death; to have their final wishes honored and the Catholic Church, specifically the Archdiocese of Louisville and Archbishop Kurtz, are denying them that yet again,” Hartman said. “They’ve faced repeated indignities here in the Archdiocese, and it’s really time [the Archdiocese] listened up and stopped.”
In a statement, the Archdiocese of Louisville reiterated that the proposed headstone isn’t consistent with the teachings of Catholicism and welcomed Bourke and DeLeon to submit another design.
A Catholic cemetery is a place that serves the faithful and witnesses to the Good News of Jesus Christ and the hope we share in the resurrection. This ministry of the sacred rite of burial is offered to the Catholic community and all of God’s people. To this end, it is a place where the signs and symbols of our Catholic faith are displayed with pride and reverence…In this case, the judgment was made that the depiction presented was not in keeping with Church teaching about marriage. Mr. Bourke and Mr. De Leon are welcome to present another headstone design for approval.
Bourke said he and his husband don’t expect to need the cemetery plot soon, so they plan to wait on the issue for now and eventually, perhaps appeal the decision. And in the next few years, Bourke said he’s hopeful the Archdiocese position on LGBT issues will continue to evolve.