A funeral home in Mississippi is facing a lawsuit for allegedly refusing to handle the body of a gay man.
Widower John "Jack" Zawadski, 82, and his nephew, John Gaspari, filed a lawsuit against the owners of Picayune Funeral Home, seeking damages for breach of contract and emotional distress.
The lawsuit accuses the home of backing out of a verbal agreement to provide cremation services for Zawadski's late husband Robert Huskey in May 2016 after discovering he was gay.
The suit mentions that the parlour allegedly told the bereaved relatives that it did not "deal with their kind".
Lambda Legal that specialises in lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBTQ) cases and co-counsel Rob McDuff of Jackson helped the family file the suit.
"I felt as if all the air had been knocked out of me. Bob was my life, and we had always felt so welcome in this community.
"And then, at a moment of such personal pain and loss, to have someone do what they did to me, to us, to Bob, I just couldn't believe it. No one should be put through what we were put through," Zawadski told Mississippi Today.
Zawadski's law team said the behaviour of the mortuary staff had deeply hurt their client. The team has sought damages for "breach of contract, negligent misrepresentation, and the intentional and negligent infliction of emotional distress".
Gaspari spoke to the funeral home's co-owner, Ted Brewer, to arrange the funeral of his uncle who died in a hospice shortly after celebrating his 86th birthday. However, the home allegedly declined to provide services after finding out that Huskey was married to a man.
"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," said Lambda Legal attorney Beth Littrell.
The home has denied the allegations. Co-owner and manager Henrietta Brewer, said her funeral home has served "well over a dozen" gay people and their families since she and her husband opened it in 2006.
Her parlour had allowed the burial of a gay man in the funeral home's privately owned cemetery, she said.
"His husband lives in Florida now, and he calls us all the time, and we go out and put fresh flowers at his grave," Henrietta said.
She said she felt "sorry" for Zawadski. "I know he's hurting. But we didn't even talk to him", she added.
Huskey and Zawadski had been together for 52 years before they got married in 2015, following the legalisation of same-sex marriage by the US Supreme Court.