Relatives Livid After Colorado Church Objects to Lesbian's Funeral

Vanessa Collier's service was moved minutes before it was scheduled to start.

ByABC News
January 14, 2015, 1:01 AM

— -- Relatives of a Colorado woman say they were forced to move her funeral – 15 minutes before the scheduled start of the service – over objections to a video showing highlights from the openly lesbian woman’s life.

Vanessa Collier died Dec. 30 at the age of 33. She was survived by her wife, Christina Higley, as well as the couple’s two children, ages 12 and 7.

Hundreds of Collier’s closest family and friends packed into New Hope Ministries in Lakewood, Colorado Saturday to celebrate her life. But minutes before the start of the funeral service, relatives say they were shocked to hear that the funeral service would not be able to continue.

New Hope’s Pastor Ray Chavez informed the mourning family that the services for Collier would not be able to go on because of the “inappropriate” video that Collier’s family wanted displayed at her casket, relatives say. The video contained photos of Collier kissing her wife on the lips. Another photo captured Collier leaning down on one knee, proposing to her wife. Family members were told that they would be able to proceed with the funeral as long as those images were edited out of the video.

“It was disgusting,” her cousin Jessica Maestas told ABC News.

Collier’s family decided that they would not edit the video, and instead moved the funeral to Newcomer Funeral Home, which is located across the street from the church. The family carried Collier’s flowers and photos to the funeral home. Collier’s casket had to be closed, placed in the hearse, and driven across the street.

PHOTO: Vanessa Collier died Dec. 30, 2014 at the age of 33.
Vanessa Collier died Dec. 30, 2014 at the age of 33.

The family remains outraged by the situation.

“180 people had to squeeze into a room that held about 60 people,” Maestas told ABC News.

Maestas, who helped Collier’s mother arrange the funeral, told ABC News that New Hope Ministries was aware that Collier was a lesbian. They told the church about her sexual orientation while they were making arrangements for her funeral. Maestas also told the church that they would be playing a video at the service.

“The only other thing they asked me was to have these videos ready two days prior so they could review them,” Maestas said. “I provided the video, and got the okay from the funeral home that we would be able to show it.”

Family and friends held a protest Tuesday in front of New Hope Ministries in honor of Collier. The “Dignity in Death Rally” was organized by Jose Silva, a longtime friend of Vanessa.

“Sitting there, watching your friend being packed up and shuttled out of a church was just horrific,” Silva told ABC News. “I organized the march because I wasn’t going to let this be the memory of her death. Love is love.”

About 70 people showed up to the protest. Some brought homemade signs and photos.

Relatives say they have not received a refund or an apology from New Hope Ministries.

New Hope Ministries has not responded to ABC News’ request for a comment.