Julie Atwood was standing at her son's casket when the phone rang. The church where her son's funeral was scheduled to be held the next day decided to abruptly cancel the service, after the pastor learned the deceased was gay and his obituary listed a surviving "husband."
Atwood said she was told it would be "blasphemous" to hold the services at the church because her son, Julion Evans, 42, was gay.
"It was devastating," she said. "I did feel like he was being denied the dignity of death."
Evans' husband, Kendall Capers, says the pair were partners for 17 years and married last year in Maryland. Evans died at home after a 4-year battle with a rare illness called Amyloidosis, which destroys organs in the body.
He says the obituary named him as "husband," and that their marriage was no secret.
"Everyone who knew us knew about our relationship," he said. "We didn't keep secrets."
The family asked for Evans' funeral to be held at New Hope Missionary Baptist Church in Tampa.
Atwood, Evans' mother, says she was baptized at the church as a child and several of her family members still attend. Atwood's current pastor agreed to preach the funeral, but they needed a large church, like New Hope, to accommodate hundreds of mourners from across the country. New Hope agreed and the service was scheduled for July 26.
But when the obituary published in the local newspaper, everything changed.
T.W. Jenkins, pastor at New Hope says was not aware of that Evans had a husband or was gay until members of his congregation saw the obit and called to complain. They did not think it was right to have the funeral at their church.
Jenkins said his church preaches against gay marriage.
"Based on our preaching of the scripture, we would have been in error to allow the service in our church," Jenkins said. "I'm not trying to condemn anyone's lifestyle, but at the same time, I am a man of God, and I have to stand up for my principles."
Because of the late change of plans, Evans' family scrambled to make new funeral arrangements, with less than 24 hours to prepare. They were unable to notify everyone, though, and some mourners showed up at the church and missed the funeral.
Capers said that was the worst part. He wanted the funeral held in a church but said he would have understood the church's position. But to cancel during his husband's wake, he said, was “disrespectful” and “wrong.”
"This is 2014, this is not the 60s or the 70s,” Capers said. “So at the end of the day I just want his wrong-doing to be exposed.”
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