When husbands Greg Bourke and Michael DeLeon became plaintiffs in Obergefell v. Hodges, the case in which the U.S. Supreme Court legalized marriage equality, the couple found their Catholic faith life a source of strength along their journey. In his memoir, Gay, Catholic, and American: My Legal Battle for Equality and Inclusion, Greg Bourke recounts his family’s story of seeking acceptance in both the Catholic Church and the eyes of the state.
Recently reviewed America, Bourke’s memoir tells the story of his devotion to his husband, his faith, and his country.
Bourke and DeLeon, who reside in Kentucky, have been regular attendees at Our Lady of Lourdes Catholic Church, Louisville, for decades. The pastor welcomed them as an openly gay couple, and when they brought their first son to be baptized in 1999, they were welcomed by their parish community. Later, they adopted and baptized a second son.
“From that point on for many years we were just like any other family at church each week with our kids,” Bourke wrote. “We had the occasional exit from Mass to the cry room and for time-outs with antsy toddlers, but for the most part we were church regulars. Everyone at Lourdes gradually got used to seeing our alternative family there together.”
While Lourdes was a welcoming parish for the family, Bourke’s quest for full inclusion was rockier with the Boy Scouts organization. In 2004, Bourke stepped up as a leader for his son’s Cub Scout group, only to find himself back in the closet. The Boy Scouts of America had a ban on openly gay leaders at the time, and Bourke eventually became frustrated by having to conceal his his gay identity and relationship while volunteering for the organization. When he wrote a letter about his identity to the head of the local Boy Scout council, he was asked to resign.
Even in 2015, when the Boy Scouts lifted its ban on openly gay Scout masters, Archbishop Joseph Kurtz of Louisville denied Bourke’s request to reapply for troop leadership. A Catholic committee had stipulated that all pastoral leaders, including in the Boy Scouts, had to witness to “the teachings of the Catholic Church, including its teachings on marriage, sexuality, and charity.” Despite Bourke’s requests to Kurtz, he was not allowed to return to the Boy Scouts.
For Bourke, remaining Catholic despite the challenges he sometimes faces as an openly gay man has required him to “call a truce” of sorts, including reaching out to reconcile with the archbishop.
“Realizing we have so much more in common in our faith and the great traditions of our Church, we had no choice but to move forward together,” Bourke wrote. “The Church was not going anywhere. Neither were Michael and I.”
While the church’s policies may not have been changing, the country’s attitudes towards gay couples were quickly evolving. Bourke and DeLeon originally filed a lawsuit seeking marriage equality in Kentucky in 2013, because they both wanted to be recognized as their sons’ legal parents. Eventually, their lawsuit merged with others in Obergefell v. Hodges.
The path towards inclusion and equality is long — and ongoing. Bourke’s memoir tells one story of how LGBTQ+ Catholic int the U.S. have navigated complexity and contradiction along the way: with faith, perseverance, and the belief that their families are equal and blessed.
–Grace Doerfler (she/her), New Ways Ministry, July 16, 2022