Funeral home refused to cremate gay man, lawsuit alleges

John "Jack" Zawadski says he had to scramble to find last-minute funeral services for his husband

Story highlights

  • Lawsuit says funeral home backed out of verbal agreement to provide final services
  • Picayune Funeral Home denies allegations

(CNN)A gay man is suing a funeral home in Mississippi, alleging that it refused to cremate his husband because it did not "deal with their kind."

John "Jack" Zawadski, 82, and his nephew filed a lawsuit against the Picayune Funeral Home's owners seeking damages for breach of contract and emotional distress.
    The lawsuit accuses them of backing out of a verbal agreement to provide final services for Zawadski's husband, Robert Huskey, in May 2016 after discovering he was gay. The reversal compounded the family's grief and left them scrambling for alternatives. The only provider they could find was 90 miles away, the lawsuit alleges, leading the family to cancel Huskey's memorial.
      Robert Huskey, left, who died in May 2016, seen here with husband John "Jack" Zawadski
      The funeral home denied all the claims in a response to the lawsuit. Messages left at the funeral home were not returned Tuesday night.
      The lawsuit, filed in March and announced Tuesday by law firm Lambda Legal, comes at a contentious time for the rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender Americans. There's no federal law that protects LGBT people from discrimination, leading Democrats to introduce the Equality Act of 2017 Tuesday.
      The bill is intended to override religious freedom measures such as the one Mississippi tried to enact in 2016 that would effectively legalize the treatment Zawadski said he experienced. Moreover, advocacy groups fear President Trump is considering an executive order that would create such religious exemptions.
        "I felt as if all the air had been knocked out of me," Zawadski said in a statement. "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 and Huskey met in 1965 in California. They moved around the country, teaching special education classes and running an apple orchard, before retiring in Picayune, Mississippi in 1997, for the friendly neighbors and warm climate, the lawsuit states.