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Catholic Publication Names Gay Couple Persons of the Year

Michael DeLeon and Greg Bourke
Michael DeLeon and Greg Bourke (AP Photo)

The often progressive National Catholic Reporter honors marriage equality plaintiffs Greg Bourke and Michael DeLeon, citing their 'witness as gay Catholics.'

The National Catholic Reporter has named a gay couple who were among the plaintiffs in the Supreme Court marriage equality case as Persons of the Year for 2015.

The venerable and often progressive Roman Catholic publication bestowed the honor on Greg Bourke and Michael DeLeon of Louisville, Ky., in an editorial published last week, noting "their historic roles as plaintiffs" and "their faithful public witness as gay Catholics."

"In a committed relationship for 33 years (and married in Canada in 2004), Bourke and DeLeon are lifelong practicing Catholics and active members of Our Lady of Lourdes Parish for 28 years," the publication reports. "Together, they are raising two children. By all accounts, they have become vital to their community."

After Bourke lost his volunteer position as a Boy Scout troop leader in 2012 -- for being gay -- he and his husband came to the attention of lawyers seeking to challenge Kentucky's ban on same-sex marriage, the Reporter notes. Their marriage from Canada was not recognized by their home state. They became lead plaintiffs in Kentucky's marriage equality case, known as Bourke v. Beshear, Steve Beshear being the state's governor at the time.

A federal district court ruled in the plaintiffs' favor in 2014, but the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit reversed that decision, upholding marriage bans in Michigan, Ohio, Kentucky, and Tennessee. The cases from those states were then consolidated and heard by the Supreme Court under the name Obergefell v. Hodges (the Ohio case), resulting in last June's ruling for nationwide marriage equality.

The Reporter, which supports civil marriage equality, describes Bourke and DeLeon as "one Catholic couple who can -- and do -- tell the story of the benefits of same-sex marriage."

The publication also notes, "Changing the law [on marriage] was a one-time event. Change comes to peoples and communities slowly. As ordinary people -- and one hopes Catholic bishops -- come to know more people in same-sex marriages, hearts and minds will change. Acceptance will replace fear."

DeLeon told The Courier-Journal of Louisville that the honor shows there are many Catholics who don't share the church hierarchy's opposition to same-sex marriage. "We've been encouraged by peers to leave" the church, and "a lot of people wonder why we stay," DeLeon said. "But you don't change anything by leaving something. There's no good reason to leave."

"There are a lot of parishioners that are welcoming," he added, and there are "people in the pews who don't agree with the hierarchy."

DeLeon, 57, and Bourke, 58, are raising two children, Bella, 16, and Isaiah, 18, the Louisville paper reports. They stepped up their church activity after becoming fathers.

But although they have been praised by their pastor, Rev. Scott Wimsatt, their parish this year vetoed Bourke's plan to become a Boy Scout leader again. When the Boy Scouts of America lifted its ban on gay adult leaders in 2015, it allowed troops sponsored by religious institutions an exemption, so churches, synagogues, and other faith organizations could choose not to allow gay adults to participate. Louisville's Catholic archbishop said churches under his authority could not have gay Scout leaders. "My heart is broken," Bourke said of the decision last August. Still, he and his family have remained in the parish.

"Bourke and DeLeon are lucky in that they are only parishioners and volunteers," notes the Reporter in its editorial, pointing out that at least 10 people lost paid positions at churches in 2015 for being gay. The publication "is already on record advocating for church personnel policies that ensure that employees can enter into legal, civil marriages without fear of losing their jobs," but is further advocating for greater church acceptance of LGBT people generally, the editorial continues.

"Bourke and DeLeon are emblematic of this major challenge facing the church today, because they force us to ask not how will we live out a hypothetical situation, but how will we live with Greg and Michael," it goes on. "They give flesh to an abstraction. The answers the church is giving now are confused, uneven and often cruel. Greg and Michael -- and countless gay, lesbian and transgender Catholics -- deserve better."

Read the full editorial here.

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