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Colorado church cancels lesbian’s funeral with fifteen minutes notice

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Craig F. Walker/The Denver Post/AP Photo

(Read caption) From left to right, Cheyenne Poorbear, Samantha Getman and Victoria Quintana display photographs of Vanessa Collier and her partner, Christina Higley, during a rally outside New Hope Ministries in Lakewood, Colo. on Tuesday, Jan. 13. The church refused to hold a memorial service on Saturday for Ms. Collier unless the family agreed to edit such photos from the memorial video.

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All lives should be celebrated equally.

That was the message behind Tuesday’s “Dignity in Death” rally at a Denver suburb, where over the weekend a lesbian woman’s funeral was canceled after a local church rejected photos used in her memorial video.

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Friends and family of Vanessa Collier, say New Hope Ministries in Lakewood, Colo., canceled the funeral 15 minutes before the service began because the memorial video – which included one photo of Ms. Collier proposing to her wife and another of the couple kissing – was deemed inappropriate.

The church said the service would continue as long as the Collier family removed the some of the photos, ABC News reported. The Colliers instead opted to move the service to the mortuary across the street.

"They didn't want to edit her life," Jose Silva, a close friend of Collier's, told CNN affiliate KMGH.

New Hope Ministries did not comment, but the chaplain who presided over the service said that everyone involved tried their best to resolve the situation.

“The pastor of the church did not sleep well the next two nights,” Gary Rolando told The Washington Post. “He’s really struggling because he really desired to minister to that family.”

The clash between religious freedom and laws against discrimination of gay people continues to fire debate in the United States. Though there’s no word if Collier’s family will be taking their issue to court, the incident echoes a 2013 dispute in New Mexico, when a studio refused to photograph a lesbian couple’s marriage ceremony.

In that case, studio co-owner Elaine Huguenin said that she was happy to serve gays and lesbians, but that forcing her to celebrate a same-sex wedding – which her religion tells her is wrong – would violate her right to free speech as a photographer.

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The New Mexico Supreme Court ruled in favor of the couple, saying that laws against discrimination apply even to creative or expressive professions. But one of the judges, though he agreed with the majority, was uneasy with the decision.

“The Huguenins today can no more turn away customers on the basis of sexual orientation… than they could refuse to photograph African-Americans or Muslims,” Justice Richard C. Bosson wrote. Still, he added, the ruling must be of “little comfort to the Huguenins, who now are compelled by law to compromise the very religious beliefs that inspire their lives.”

“Though the rule of law requires it, the result is sobering,” Mr. Bosson wrote.

In Colorado, state law prohibits "public accommodations" from refusing service based on sexual orientation, but religious entities do not fall under this definition.

Silva, who organized the Tuesday rally in Collier's name, told KUSA-TV Denver: "It's about understanding that there should be dignity in death and that everybody deserves the right to be celebrated in the right way. And that lack of oversight, and lack of personal ideals and values, should never trump being able to celebrate someone's life."