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Navy vet sues state for right to be buried with same-sex spouse at vets’ cemetery

Madelyn Lee Taylor filed a lawsuit against the state Division of Veterans Services today asking a federal judge to order the division to allow her to be buried together with the remains of her same-sex partner at the Idaho State Veterans Cemetery. Taylor, 74, is a U.S. Navy veteran with serious health problems; her wife, Jean Mixner, died in 2012 of emphysema, and Taylor has kept her cremated remains unburied in Boise because the two desire to have their remains commingled and interred together after Taylor’s death.

Taylor went to the Idaho State Veterans Cemetery in December of 2013 to arrange for the interment in a single stone columbarium; the cemetery routinely allows veterans to be buried with their spouses. Taylor presented her valid honorable discharge and valid marriage certificate – the two were legally married in 2008 in California – but the state refused to allow the burial arrangements, citing the Idaho Constitution’s ban on recognition of same-sex marriages.

That ban was declared unconstitutional by a federal magistrate judge in May, though the ruling was stayed as the state appeals to the 9th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals; a hearing on the appeal has been set for Sept. 8.

In her lawsuit, Taylor’s attorney, Deborah Ferguson, wrote, “Idaho law goes so far as to deny her as a military veteran the basic dignity and respect of being interred alongside her lawful spouse in the Idaho State Veterans Cemetery.” She is seeking both a permanent injunction to approve her pre-registration application for interment with Mixner, and unspecified monetary damages for her injuries and expenses.  You can read Taylor’s full complaint here.

In April, Idaho Gov. Butch Otter issued this statement on the issue: “The veteran’s cemetery rules require a valid marriage certificate in order for a spouse to be buried with a veteran. Idaho’s Constitution does not recognize same-sex marriage. The voters spoke in 2006 by passing an amendment to our Constitution defining marriage as between a man and a woman. I am defending their decision and the Idaho Constitution in federal court, so I’m not going to comment any further.”

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Betsy Z. Russell
Betsy Z. Russell joined The Spokesman-Review in 1991. She currently is a reporter in the Boise Bureau covering Idaho state government and politics, and other news from Idaho's state capital.

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