Lambda Wins Agreement for Headstone at Lesbian's Unmarked Grave
(NEW YORK, September 5, 1997) — Lambda Legal Defense and Education Fund won an agreement Friday with a Pennsylvania cemetery that will allow a lesbian to place the headstone her now-deceased partner requested at her grave.
Sherry Barone now can install a headstone that includes the words "life partner" in an epitaph for Cynthia Friedman, whose grave site has been unmarked because the Har Jehuda Cemetery in Upper Darby, Pennsylvania, refused to honor its contract with Barone. On April 15, Lambda filed a lawsuit against the cemetery in federal court in Philadelphia.
"I feel tremendous relief knowing that Cynthia's spirit can now be at rest. Finally, Cynthia will have the headstone she wanted, and my mind will be at peace for the first time in three years," Barone said in a statement issued after the settlement was reached. Barone was in Israel at the time.
David S. Buckel, the Lambda staff attorney on the case, said, "Imagine a widow having to file a federal lawsuit in order to honor her deceased spouse's wishes, even after signing a contract with the cemetery. The relationship between these two women was as important and as real as any non-gay married relationship and deserves at least as much recognition." He added, "One of the greatest joys we have at Lambda is winning respect for our families."
Barone's lawsuit asserted that there was no legal basis for any party to contest her authority to carry out Friedman's wishes and that the cemetery had breached its contract and caused emotional distress by refusing to honor those wishes. In settling the case out of court, the cemetery agreed to allow Barone to install Friedman's headstone as she planned and to pay her $15,000.
Lambda Executive Director Kevin M. Cathcart said, "This couple took every precaution available to lesbian and gay couples to make sure their relationship was given legal effect, including drawing up wills, powers of attorney, health proxies, and explicit instructions to the survivor for carrying out wishes. Sherry Barone should never have had to endure the pain of seeing her partner's wishes disrespected and of having to fight for the most basic respect for their relationship."
Abbe F. Fletman of Klehr, Harrison, Harvey, Branzburg & Ellers in Philadelphia is Lambda's cooperating attorney on the case.
Barone and Friedman, Philadelphia natives who moved together to Los Angeles, were in a relationship for 13 years when Friedman succumbed to cancer at age 35 in 1994. Following her 1989 diagnosis, Friedman signed extensive documents in an effort to assure that her relationship with Barone would be given legal force.
In several discussions about her headstone, Friedman had asked that Barone include the inscription: "Beloved life partner, daughter, granddaughter, sister, and aunt." Before she died, Friedman explicitly rejected any relatives' authority to challenge actions by Barone on her behalf.
Within days of Friedman's death, Barone purchased two adjoining plots at Har Jehuda Cemetery. A headstone should have been unveiled one year after Friedman's death, an important Jewish tradition that officially marks the end of the grieving period one year after a loved one's death. But the cemetery refused to act on Barone's instructions. It asserted that, because Friedman's parents did not agree about her wishes, a court would have to resolve whether Barone had authority to determine Friedman's epitaph.
Friedman's headstone will include the Star of David and Friedman's Hebrew name, Sheva, and state:
July 11, 1959 - October 3, 1994
Beloved life partner,
sister, and aunt
A spirited and compassionate
woman who will be
forever in our hearts
(Case # 97-2599, Barone v. Har Jehuda Cemetery)
Contact: Peg Byron 212-809-8585