Catholic Newspaper Names Same-Sex Marriage Plaintiffs 'Persons Of The Year'

Last year, it was the pope.

The National Catholic Reporter has named two of the men at the heart of the Supreme Court's landmark same-sex marriage case its "persons of the year."

Greg Bourke and Michael DeLeon were two of the several dozen plaintiffs in the case Obergefell v. Hodges. In June, the Supreme Court ruled in favor of these couples and legalized marriage equality nationwide.

"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. They give flesh to an abstraction," the National Catholic Reporter wrote in an editorial Monday.

"The answers the church is giving now are con­fused, uneven and often cruel," it added. "Greg and Michael -- and countless gay, lesbian and transgender Catholics -- deserve better."

The National Catholic Reporter is an independent weekly paper that covers topics related to the Catholic Church, and has long called for the church to be more accepting of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender individuals. Last year, Pope Francis received the Reporter's "person of the year" honor. Other past honorees include Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts, who was in the minority in Obergefell, opposing legalized same-sex marriage.

Bourke and DeLeon have been together for 33 years. In 2004, they traveled with their two children to Niagara Falls, Canada, and got married, at a time when conservative legislatures and then-President George W. Bush were pushing for marriage equality bans. The marriage wasn't legal in the couple's home state of Kentucky, which meant the two men couldn't be recognized as the parents of their children, Bella and Isaiah.

That legal distinction made itself felt in day-to-day life in unexpected ways, the couple said. For example, when Bella and Isaiah needed passports, DeLeon was the one to go with them, because in the eyes of the law, he was their only parent.

Both men have been active in their Catholic parish, Our Lady of Lourdes, for nearly 30 years. In March, The Huffington Post spent an evening with Bourke and DeLeon in Louisville as they worked a Friday fish fry during Lent.

"I've been here almost four years, and there might be a handful of people who are uncomfortable," Father Scott Wimsett, the pastor of Our Lady of Lourdes, said at the time. "But [Bourke and DeLeon] are loved and respected and people call them. They're involved, and you see how they fit in."

"They're just good people," Wimsett went on. "And that's kind of what it's all about, isn't it?"

Bourke said he and DeLeon were "surprised and deeply moved" to receive the honor.

"The Catholic Church has long created a climate of shame and exclusion for LGBT Catholics," Bourke told The Huffington Post Monday, "and this bold statement by the National Catholic Reporter could be an important step in changing policies and rhetoric in the Church about God’s LGBT people who seek only to be included and treated with the same dignity as anyone else."

"Our warm and welcoming parish make it easy and joyous to stay," DeLeon added. "We are blessed to practice the faith of our birth, the faith that we have shared for 33 years."

Bourke and DeLeon's marriage was in the spotlight long before the Supreme Court case.

In 2012, the Boy Scouts forced Bourke to give up his leadership position with the local troop due to his sexual orientation. At the time, the Boy Scouts banned openly gay members and leaders. Bourke had led local Boy Scout and Girl Scout troops for years, and he and DeLeon had both been active in scouting themselves. Their son Isaiah was an Eagle Scout.

Although Wimsett and the local troop stood up for Bourke and refused to force him out, the Boy Scouts eventually threatened to revoke the troop's charter unless he left.

"So because I love the troop and I love the boys and I love scouting ... I resigned reluctantly," Bourke told The Huffington Post in March.

After the controversy, Bourke began speaking out more frequently on equality issues, which made him and his family more comfortable being in the limelight when Bourke and DeLeon became Supreme Court plaintiffs.

Greg Bourke and his son, Isaiah, in 2013.
Greg Bourke and his son, Isaiah, in 2013.
Greg Bourke and Michael DeLeon

The National Catholic Reporter noted that Bourke and DeLeon are luckier than many other gay Catholics, because while they are parishioners and volunteers, their "livelihoods do not depend on the institutional church," which still opposes marriage equality.

The publication said there should be "church personnel policies that ensure that employees can en­ter into legal, civil marriages without fear of losing their jobs."

"Changing the law was a one-time event. Change comes to peoples and communities slowly," wrote the editorial board. "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."

"The Catholic Church has a great opportunity here and now to embrace change," Bourke said Monday, "and move forward in creating God's church based on Christ's teachings of equality and inclusion for all."

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