Mississippi Funeral Home Refuses to Cremate Gay Man

Lambda Legal is taking to the courts to represent a gay man who was refused service by a Mississippi funeral home. Despite initially agreeing to transport his deceased spouse, the Picayune Funeral Home allegedly backed out after they realized that the couple had been in a same-gender marriage. 

Jack and Bob Zawadski were a couple for over fifty years when they moved to Picayune in Mississippi to retire. When the Supreme Court of the United States overturned state marriage bans in 2015, the two men decided to marry.

Unfortunately, Bob Zawadski’s health began to deteriorate, and soon after he went to live at a nursing home to receive necessary specialist care. In late April of 2016, the family began making arrangements for what would happen after Bob passed away — including contacting the Picayune Funeral Home, the only crematorium available in Pearl River County.

Bob eventually passed away on May 11 of 2016. Per usual procedure, his nursing home then contacted Picayune Funeral Home and provided them with all the relevant information about Bob and his husband Jack. Not long after, Bob’s nephew John received a call from the nursing home relaying that the Picayune Funeral Home was refusing to pick up Bob’s body and would not perform the cremation.

The suit – Zawadski v. Brewer Funeral Services — notes:

Shortly after the Nursing Home sent the signed paperwork that identified Jack as Bob’s surviving spouse, John was contacted by the Nursing Home and informed that PFH now adamantly refused to provide services. The Nursing Home relayed to John that once PFH received the paperwork indicating that Bob’s spouse was male, PFH refused service because it did not “deal with their kind.”

The nursing home couldn’t keep Bob’s body, so the family had to endure significant hardship in locating another funeral home with a crematorium. Because the nearest available crematorium was some 90 miles away, the family then had to find another funeral home in Picayune willing to transport Bob’s remains from the nursing home to the crematorium.

You can hear Jack and Bob’s story below:

But why did the Picayune Funeral Home change its mind? Lambda Legal alleges that the funeral home unlawfully broke its contract with the Zawadskis as a result of anit-gay animus.

“What happened to this family is shocking,” Lambda Legal Counsel Beth Littrell explained. “Almost immediately after losing his husband and partner of more than 50 years, Jack Zawadski’s grief was compounded by injustice and callous treatment from the very place that should have helped ease his suffering.”

However, the firm representing Picayune Funeral Home has issued a statement in which it refutes the allegations made in the suit — and  specifically the notion that the denial of services was motivated by anti-LGBT discrimination.

Attorney Silas McCharen stated:

 . . . I am compelled to comment, lest my silence be interpreted as agreement with what is being reported . . . Ms. Brewer denies she ever spoke the words ‘deal with their kind’ to anyone, including anyone at the nursing home where Plaintiffs’ decedent, Bob Huskey, passed away. Picayune Funeral Home has never refused to provide funeral services based on sexual orientation.

It’s worth noting that Lambda Legal is suing for damages on the basis that the funeral home broke its contract with the Zawadski family. Lambda is not suing specifically for anti-gay discrimination – mainly because it can’t.

There is no state or federal law that specifically protects LGBT individuals in this regard, and given that the Trump administration has all but abandoned the fight for LGBT rights under the Civil Rights Act, matters are even more complicated.

Furthermore, Mississippi actually has a law on the books that shields funeral homes and business providers from discrimination claims, so long as the acted on their sincerely held religious beliefs. The legislation, known as House Bill 1523, grants a broad license to discriminate. Republican Gov. Phil Bryant signed the bill in April of last year.

The law is currently on hold as Lambda Legal fights it in court, but this story shows just what’s at stake for LGBT people. Despite marriage equality being the law of the land, the religious right has worked to gut LGBT civil rights, leaving significant doubt over whether such discrimination can even be actionable in court.

Jack’s experience serves as a prime example of precisely why HB 1523 must be repealed and why both state and federal legislation protecting LGBTI people is essential. It also highlights in clear terms why the Trump administration must not sign a rumored executive order which would broaden religious rights to refuse service. Otherwise, more people like Jack could face discrimination when they are at their most vulnerable.

Take Action

Demand that the Trump administration abandon plans for broadening religious right to discriminate exemptions by signing this Care2 petition today.

Photo Credit: Jinx!/Flickr

95 comments

Melania Padilla
Melania P1 months ago

Shame!

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Will Rogers
Will R3 months ago

Where is this Mississippi? The Middle Ages?

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Carl R
Carl R3 months ago

Thanks!!!

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S J
S J3 months ago

I'm sorry to hear such terrible thing. I hope he will be honored soon and no one else will fall victim like this again. Thank you for sharing

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Carl R
Carl R4 months ago

Thanks!!!!

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Jaime J
Jaime J4 months ago

Thank you!!

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Margie FOURIE
Margie F4 months ago

I think all people should be considered, but if that is their view, so be it.

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Christian M
Christian M4 months ago

My gosh. Thats crazy

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Janis K
Janis K4 months ago

Thanks for sharing.

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Joy T
Joy T4 months ago

Already S. & S'd. ("JOY,
YOU TOOK ACTION ON FEBRUARY 8, 2017") Sharing again!

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