The family of a 33-year-old woman who died in Colorado has said the minister at the church where her memorial service was originally planned cancelled her funeral — because she was gay.
Vanessa Collier’s relatives and friends gathered to celebrate her life at New Hope Ministries in Lakewood, Colorado, last Saturday. But Pastor Ray Chavez reportedly called off the service because, he said, there could be no indication that she was openly gay, The Denver Post reported on Tuesday. The family wanted to display photographs of the woman with her wife, Christina Higley, and their two children next to the casket. Relatives also had hoped to show a video that contained a collection of images with Collier, including her kissing Christina on the lips and bending down on one knee to propose to her wife.
There are conflicting reports about when the pastor asked the family to remove the images. The Denver Post article claims the service stopped 15 minutes into the ceremony.
Instead of removing the images and continuing with the service at New Hope Ministries, the family moved Collier’s casket, pictures, and flowers to Newcomer Funeral Home, which had been in contact with the family throughout the process, across the street from the church.
“When the service was not able to take place as planned at New Hope Ministries, we relocated the service to our chapel to be able to take care of the services within the family’s wishes,” David Campanella, area manager at Newcomer Funeral Home, told msnbc. He said he couldn’t provide additional details about the service or attendees because he wasn’t present at the funeral home on Saturday.
A representative from New Hope Ministries didn’t immediately respond to msnbc’s request for comment on Thursday. The website explains that Chavez and his wife founded New Hope Ministries in 1981 as “a place where those bound by drugs, alcohol, gangs and violence can find an ‘Ounce of Hope.’”
Collier, of Thornton, Colorado, died when her gun went off while she was cleaning it on Dec. 29, 2014, according to the obituary published by Newcomer Funeral Home.
Dozens of protesters gathered outside of the church on Tuesday, still angry for turning them away during their mourning for Collier three days before, and waiting for an apology.
Last July, a federal judge in Colorado became the 16th in the country to conclude that gay and lesbian couples have a constitutional right to wed. The ruling was soon placed on hold, but by October, the same-sex marriage ban in the state was doomed.
Only one federal appeals court has found bans on same-sex nuptials constitutional since the Supreme Court overturned the Defense of Marriage Act in June 2013, which cleared the way for the federal government to begin recognizing marriages between gay and lesbian couples.