NEW YORK, May 3 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - An elderly
man is suing a Mississippi funeral home he claims refused to
cremate his husband's body in a landmark case that campaigners
say could widen the rights of gay people in the conservative
John Zawadski, 82, filed the civil suit in state court after
he sought the services of the Picayune Funeral Home for his
partner of 52 years but was told the business did not "deal with
their kind," according to the complaint.
His attorney Beth Littrell, from gay rights group Lambda
Legal, said she believed this was the first case in which
somebody was suing for discrimination based on sexual
orientation for being refused services at a funeral home.
Mississippi has been a hotbed of activity over equality,
privacy and religious freedom after the U.S. Supreme Court in
2015 legalized same-sex marriage in all 50 U.S. states, said a
spokesman for the Human Rights Campaign, an advocacy group for
lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) people.
Last year a federal judge blocked a Mississippi law that was
intended to allow people who objected on religious grounds to
refuse weddings and other services to LGBT people. The law is
currently under review.
According to the suit, the funeral home in southern
Mississippi did not follow through with an oral agreement to
transport and cremate the body of Robert Huskey last May.
The decision came after paperwork identified his surviving
spouse as a man, it said.
"The turmoil ... marred the memory of Bob's otherwise
peaceful passing," the complaint said.
Relatives were unable to gather friends for the service as
they had intended, it said, after scrambling to find another
funeral home offering cremation some 90 miles (145 km) away.
"I felt as if all the air had been knocked out of me,"
Zawadski said in a statement. "No one should be put through what
we were put through."
Zawadski, whose nephew is a co-plaintiff in the case, is
seeking damages for breach of contract and emotional distress.
An attorney for the defense, Silas McCharen, said in an
emailed statement that Picayune Funeral Home had never refused
to provide funeral services based on sexual orientation. He
denied the funeral home's co-owner had said the words "deal with
In the Mississippi town of Oxford, activist Gail Stratton
said she hoped the suit would further the rights of LGBT people
statewide as debate on the issue and acceptance were on the
"There absolutely has to be legal challenges," said the
spokeswoman with LGBT rights group PFLAG.
"I truly think we're just like decades behind the rest of
the country on that," she told the Thomson Reuters Foundation in
a phone interview.
(Reporting by Sebastien Malo @sebastienmalo, Editing by Belinda
Goldsmith; Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the
charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers humanitarian
news, women's rights, trafficking, property rights, climate
change and resilience. Visit news.trust.org)