Fighting for Respect for 3 Decades of Love

Michael DeLeon & Greg Bourke | Louisville, KY

Editors' Note: On November 6, 2014, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 6th Circuit ruled against the freedom to marry, reversing a lower court ruling in a federal case that declared it unconstitutional to deny the freedom to marry to same-sex couples. Now, this couple is speaking out about why marriage matters in their state and nationwide, committed to continuing the fight.

The way that Greg Bourke and Michael DeLeon see it, their 32 years together have been divided into three lives - their years of traveling together as a newly together couple, the time they spent building their family and raising their two children, and the not-so-distant future where their children will be grown and the two of them will be on their own again.

Before they get to that third stage, however, Greg and Michael are committed to making the world a little bit easier for couples like them in their home state of Kentucky and the United States as a whole. Last summer, following the United States Supreme Court's landmark ruling that struck down the core of the so-called Defense of Marriage Act, Greg and Michael filed a lawsuit seeking respect for their marriage. They filed their case with the Fauver Law Office, led by primary attorneys Shannon Fauver and Dawn Elliot, with further involvement from Clay Daniel Walton & Adams attorneys Dan Canon, Laura Landenwich and L. Joe Dunman.

On February 12 of this year, they celebrated as Judge John G. Heyburn II ruled in their favor in their case, Bourke v. Beshear, declaring that the Bluegrass State must respect the marriages of same-sex couples legally performed in other states (in July, Judge Heyburn further ruled in a related case that the state’s marriage ban is altogether unconstitutional).

Their lawsuit was borne out of the couple’s attendance at a rally for marriage in Frankfort, Kentucky in March 2013, where they stood with same-sex couples from across the state in making the case that the entire country is ready for the freedom to marry.

As they stood and declared their commitment, they reflected on their 32 years together – beginning with when they met for the first time, back in 1981 in Lexington.

Their early relationship was filled with dancing and movies, beginning with one of their first dates at the Kentucky Theatre, watching A Streetcar Named Desire.

“From there, we started dating, going to church together, and going to each other’s homes,” Michael explained. “Greg was in school full-time getting his MBA, and I was working at UPS part-time. I still needed to complete my bachelor’s degree - which I did thanks in part to Greg’s goal-oriented influence.”

"Marriage was a way to honor our commitment to each other and a way to further recognize our family."

Things moved quickly, and soon, Greg and Michael moved in together. When Greg was offered a job based in Connecticut, Michael followed. 

“Moving that far away from home without a job was a tough decision,” Michael explained. “But I remember talking to my mom and she encouraged me to go – to take a chance on this. I have a vivid memory of her riding with Greg and me in the farm truck as Greg and I picked up furniture from different relatives in Louisville.”

After a few years in Connecticut, the Bluegrass State called back to them, and they moved together to Louisville in 1986, where they bought their first home – the same home where they live now – and joined the church where they are still parishioners, Our Lady of Lourdes. 

As they built their lives back in their home state, Greg and Michael began looking toward expanding their family. 

On March 29, 1999, Michael and Greg welcomed their daughter Bella into the world, and as she grew up, they realized they wanted her to do so alongside a sibling. They found Isaiah, a three-year-old boy looking to be adopted, and by January 2001, their family was complete.

“Once our lives involved two toddlers, they’ve never been the same,” Greg laughed. “Our primary skill was making sure no one got more than the other – and cutting things precisely in half.”

In March 2004, as their kids got older, Michael and Greg knew how important it was to ensure that their family was respected – and they worked to do everything they could to protect their family unit. That included traveling from Kentucky to Ontario, Canada to say “I do” and get legally married, more than two decades after becoming a couple for the first time.

“Marriage was a way to honor our commitment to each other and a way to further recognize our family,” Greg said. 

But despite being married, Michael and Greg are still held back by anti-marriage laws in Kentucky (and for years, they were restrained by the United States’ so-called Defense of Marriage Act, which also denied respect to their legal marriage license). For example, only one of the men was able to have his name listed on the birth certificate, and even now, only Michael’s name appears.

“We had to go through a lot of legalese with medical power of attorney and other legal documents just to have us both be connected in some ways to our children,” Michael explained.

Throughout it all, Michael and Greg have been surrounded by love and support from their entire family. “We’ve always been family oriented – and we’ve been blessed with families that treated us as a couple with lots of respect,” Michael said, referencing specifically Greg’s mother and father (who are 88 and 90 years old, respectively, below), Greg’s three Kentucky-based brothers, Michael’s siblings, both of Michael’s parents before they passed away, and many uncles, aunts, and extended family members from both sides of the family.

Now, Michael and Greg are looking toward the third stage of their lives as a couple – where Bella and Isaiah are grown and the two of them look toward a future retirement.

“Our children are in high school right now, and it’s just amazing,” Greg reflected. “We have these two beautiful young people in our lives – and we’re excited to let them flex their wings and grow into the independent thinkers.” 

They know that they have set a positive example for Isaiah and Bella by leading the fight for the freedom to marry in Kentucky – and they’re determined to continue to push for full respect in their home state.

"We want to make it clear that our family is not different from other families. We want to show that our marriage is not different from other marriages."

As they prepare to make the case at this federal appellate court, Michael and Greg are continually asked about how they’ve made it work – how they’ve kept their love and commitment alive for more than three decades, through each of those three phases of their life together. The answer, Michael explained, isn’t so simple.

“Someone recently asked me what the secret was - and I think there are a lot of secrets!” he said. “There’s not just one. But one of the most important is that we still make each other laugh. Bella’s told me, ‘You guys belong together because no one else is going to laugh at your jokes other than yourselves.’”

Michael and Greg don’t challenge their daughter’s criticism of their jokes, but they also know that their relationship works because of something more – a deep understanding and respect for each other.

“We both know our individual strengths and can read each other so well,” Michael said. “Sometimes we know who is best suited to do something – and other times, it’s just intuition that tells us who should take the lead. But no matter what, we’re working together to support our family, to protect our children, and to set a positive example. That’s what we’re doing with this case: We want to make it clear that our family is not different from other families. We want to show that our marriage is not different from other marriages.”

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