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Funeral Home Refused to Cremate Body of Gay Man, Suit Claims

When the Picayune funeral home in Mississippi learned that Robert Huskey had been married to a man, they allegedly told his family that they don't "deal with their kind." Trump is reportedly set to sign an executive order for religious freedoms later...

Diana Tourjée

Diana Tourjée

Photo by Nasos Zovoilis via Stocksy

The idea that our nation is divided has been repeated with such frequency, you'd think it cliché. However, it is kept fresh by an endless string of vicious legal battles between groups of American people and the government. In a recent example of this, a funeral home owned by the Brewer family in Picayune, Mississippi, allegedly refused to cremate a man named Robert Huskey after they realized that he had been married to a man.

Huskey was living in a nursing home, and his family had been planning for his death. A lawsuit claims that the Picayune Funeral Home broke their verbal contract with the family when Huskey died. According to the documents filed in court, the nursing home was told that the funeral home refused to handle Huskey's body when he passed, stating they do not "deal with their kind."

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The family was forced to drive 90 miles to find someone willing to lay the man to rest. The widower, Jack Zawadaski, and Huskey's nephew, John Gaspari, filed a lawsuit against the funeral home in early Match, stating that Zawadski "suffered profound and permanent emotional and dignitary harms" as a direct result of their behavior.

According to court documents, the Picayune Funeral Home reportedly possesses "the only crematory in Pearl River County." Subsequently, "John was forced to begin a frantic search for another funeral home with an onsite crematorium," which was "approximately 90 miles away," in Hattiesburg, MS. But Huskey's corpse had to be moved immediately—his grieving husband was forced to find another nearby funeral home to temporarily hold his husband's body while they waited for the transport from Hattiesburg to arrive. According to the Washington Post, the Brewer family, who own the Picayune Funeral Home, have denied the allegations, and claim they have "never discriminated on the basis of sexual orientation."

This case takes on a new, sinister relevance in light of the fact that Donald Trump is reportedly slated to sign a Religious Freedom executive order on Thursday. If it's anything like the version that leaked in February of this year, then the federal government will make sweeping protections to allow for discrimination across the country in the name of "religious freedom."

John Zawadaski. Courtesy of Lambda Legal

"True freedom of religion is a core American constitutional value that protects the right of individuals to believe and worship free from government interference," said Nicholas Little, the vice president and general counsel at the Center for Inquiry, an organization whose mission is "to foster a secular society based on science, reason, freedom of inquiry, and humanist values."

Little explained that, while freedom of religion is core to American values, "it isn't a license to discriminate, or a 'get out of jail free' card to avoid compliance with civil rights laws. Dressing up a desire to discriminate against LGBTQ individuals, or against women, or against racial groups in the garb of religious belief doesn't make it any more palatable, and our laws shouldn't make exceptions for it."

It is horrifying to imagine that anyone could be refused an essential service at the end of their life. The action is especially chilling when you trace the bloodstained arch of gay history through the 20th century. When AIDS was ravaging gay communities in the 1980's, the federal government ignored and even laughed at the growing epidemic. By 1992, 200,000 people had died. A generation was lost, and surviving spouses struggled to find accommodating funeral homes, according to the New York Times.

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Eighty-two-year-old John Zawadaski's legal claim explains that he and "Bob met in 1965 in Anaheim, California," where "they quickly fell in love." What followed was a lifetime that anyone would envy: They spent their years together as teachers and kept an apple tree farm, before their retirement in Picayune, Mississippi. They were married near the end of their lives, in 2015, when the federal government finally saw it fit to grant marriage equality to gay Americans. Will the government protect gay men and women in 2017—or will the Trump administration pass Religious Freedom protections that enable discrimination against LGBT Americans?

The Brewer family are dedicated to their work. "At Picayune Funeral Home we are committed to providing our community with the best possible service in their time of need," their website explains. "We are here to guide you through the most difficult time in your life and we take that responsibility seriously. Our goal is provide you and your family with the highest level of compassionate care."