When It's Not About a Cake: Anti-Gay Attitude Shuts Down Funeral

Bigotry or breach of contract? What should have been done?


Vanessa Collier, via 7News

For the sake of argument, let's say we can get everyone to agree that private businesses could legally decide whether they provide goods and services to gay people. I know people aren't agreeing to that, but nevertheless, let's go with it. The problem, though, is it's not obvious who is or isn't gay, and it might not come up immediately, like it might when providing services for a wedding. If a person discovers—while in the process of providing a service—that he or she has agreed to be a party to something he or she does not support, what would be the appropriate or ethical thing to do?

It happened last weekend in Lakewood, Colorado, when a pastor shut down the funeral of Vanessa Collier, 33, during the service itself because on display were images of Collier with her wife, and a remembrance video to be shown during the service featured the two of them showing affection. They literally had to pick up everything and move it to a funeral home across the street to conclude the services. From The Denver Post:

Friends say they gave the church a remembrance video of Collier a week before that contained images of her kissing and embracing her wife. The pastor had every chance to stop the funeral long before it began, they said.

Collier, the mother of two girls, 7 and 11, lived in Thornton and died Dec. 30. New Hope Ministries was chosen for the memorial service because of its location — close to where Collier and her friends grew up, friends said.

David Campanella, area manager for Newcomer Funeral Home, where the service was moved, said they handled all of the funeral services for Collier's family when at the last minute the ceremony for Collier was moved from the church to the funeral home.

Colorado's public accommodation laws exempt churches entirely, so the church was within legal bounds to have turned down services for Collier from the start. But once they agreed to host it, is it a breach of an agreement to have halted the services in the middle of the ceremony? In The Denver Post story, the family said the church didn't even give them their money back, but that has since been corrected. The family paid $400 for the services.

None of the news coverage discusses what type of agreement the family and the church entered into, but there's no indication as yet that the family is seeking legal action. Protesters have targeted the church for discriminating against Collier and her family.

So, what say you? I would contend that the church is well within its rights to be bigots and refuse to host funerals that demonstrate gay affection. But obviously this wasn't so important an issue to the church that its position wasn't made clear prior to making this agreement to this family, and the family noted the church had been provided well in advance the materials it found offensive. Once the church made an agreement to host the funeral, it should have followed through with Collier's ceremony and then formalized policies for future services on what the church would or would not play host to for those in same-sex relationships. If the church did breach a formal agreement, the family should take them to court and be compensated for it.