Gov. Matt Bevin stated he wanted to protect the ‘sincerely held religious beliefs of all Kentuckians.'
Among headstone images at St. Michael's Cemetery in Germantown that depict golfing, fishing, playing basketball and baseball, riding motorcycles, #BBN (Big Blue Nation), race cars and numerous interlocking wedding rings, Michael De Leon and Greg Bourke didn't expect their design for a headstone showing rings and the Supreme Court building to stand out.
Then there's also the twin spires at Churchill Downs.
"You see all kinds of things...that are totally unrelated to any church teaching or any church symbolism," Bourke said.
The gay couple, who were married in Canada in 2004 and live in St. Matthews, were among the petitioners in the legal case that resulted in the historic June 26 ruling in which the Supreme Court said states must allow gays and lesbians to marry and that states much recognize those marriages.
So to them, the high court building -- "one of the great icons of American democracy," Bourke said -- seemed like a natural symbol to include on their headstone, along with the ubiquitous wedding rings.
The Catholic Archdiocese of Louisville didn't see it that way, and a politely worded letter to De Leon and Bourke from Catholic Cemeteries executive director Javier Fajardo thanks them for their patience but said, "We cannot approve the depiction of the Supreme Court building and the use of wedding rings."
Otherwise, their request to be buried side by side and the rest of the design with their names, a cross and other standard information was deemed acceptable. They were asked to let Fajardo know if they wanted to submit a new design for review.
A Catholic cemetery is a "sacred place" where "the signs and symbols of our Catholic faith are displayed with pride and reverence," the letter said. "Inscriptions on grave markers are permitted so long as they do not conflict with any teaching of the Church. Your proposed markings are not in keeping with this requirement."
De Leon and Bourke, both 58, belong to a group called Catholics for Fairness that held a news conference with the theme "Freedom to Bury" along with the Fairness Campaign Wednesday outside St. Michael, 1153 Charles St., to call attention to what they consider to be an unjust situation. State Rep. Jim Wayne, a supporter of the group, also was present. The Huffington Post posted a story Tuesdayabout the headstone controversy.
"We feel like we've been dealt with unfairly," Bourke said. Their design is "not any more outrageous than other things," he said. "It's very modest, not over-sized and not in a well-trafficked part of the cemetery."
At the same time, Bourke said the Archdiocese is exempt from the local Fairness Ordinance that prohibits discrimination against members of the LGBT community, and the "Archdiocese has every legal right to do what they're doing," Bourke said. "We have no protection whatsoever in a situation like this."
They hope to set up a meeting with Archdiocese officials to try to reach a compromise but haven't taken action yet. They had submitted their design in October, after consulting with an Archdiocese employee, not realizing that it would be subject to review by a higher authority. They thought it was "like picking out countertops," Bourke said.
But "bells and whistles went off" when months went by before they received a response, in the form of the March 30 letter. The "appropriateness" of any inscription or symbol is determined by the cemeteries director in consultation with the "proper Church authority," the letter said.
De Leon said he and Bourke are "planners and look ahead" and wanted to spare their two children any extra expense and trouble later. Bourke's parents already have their memorial headstones in place three rows from where he and De Leon bought a plot last year, Bourke said.
"We just want to show support for Greg and Michael in their efforts," Chris Hartman, the Fairness Campaign's executive director, said in an interview. Hartman said they all have been involved in an "ongoing public battle" for years with Archbishop Joseph Kurtz over the issues of LGBT rights, and he cited the decision not to allow Greg Bourke to continue to be a Boy Scout leader because he is openly gay as another example.
Bourke and De Leon "might have a more receptive audience with the Vatican than with the Archdiocese."
Bourke and De Leon are longtime members of Our Lady of Lourdes Catholic Church in St. Matthews and they were named 2015 "Persons of the Year" by the National Catholic Reporter, an independent weekly newspaper based in Kansas City, Mo. De Leon works in information technology at General Electric, and Bourke is a consultant for Humana.
Bourke said the treatment they received with regard to the headstone design is not consistent with "the moderating tone we Catholics have enjoyed lately from Pope Francis." At the press conference, he said it felt like “deliberate retaliation against my family” and asked, "Is that what Jesus would do?"
Martha Elson, @MarthaElson_cj