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Navy vet sues Idaho for right to be buried with her same-sex spouse

UPDATED: Mon., July 7, 2014, 4:41 p.m.

Madelynn Lee Taylor (Betsy Russell)
Madelynn Lee Taylor (Betsy Russell)

BOISE - Madelynn Lee Taylor figures she doesn’t have that much time to wait around, so she filed a lawsuit Monday asking a federal judge to order Idaho to allow her to be buried together with the remains of her same-sex spouse 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 agreed to have their remains commingled and interred together after Taylor’s death.

But the state Division of Veterans Services has refused Taylor’s application, citing the Idaho Constitution’s ban on recognition of same-sex marriages.

“Your application indicates that you and Ms. Mixner are female,” wrote James Earp, cemetery director. “Same-sex marriages entered into under the laws of another state violate the public policy in Idaho and are not valid in Idaho.”

“What harm can the ashes of two old lesbians do – do they expect us to be recruiting in there?” Taylor asked with a laugh.

She said if she could talk directly to Idaho Gov. Butch Otter, she’d say, “Tell the guy over there at the V.A. to let me put my ashes in there with Jean’s – it’s not taking up any more space.”

Taylor said she decided to head to court while in Seattle recently to have a stent placed in her neck at a Veterans Administration hospital. “The doctor asked me what I was going to do about it while I was on the operating table,” she told The Spokesman-Review in an interview on Monday. “He says, ‘I don’t want to raise your blood pressure, but what are you going to do about that veterans’ cemetery up there in Idaho?’ He said, ‘We’ve got a real nice one here.’”

Taylor said she has multiple family members in Idaho, and wants to be buried in her home state. “The family’s here, and my friends, my church,” she said. “I’ve been a member of this church since 1980.”

Taylor was taken by surprise when she went to the Idaho State Veterans Cemetery in December of 2013 to arrange for the interment, something she and Jean had decided on back in 2005 after attending Jean’s mother’s funeral. The cemetery routinely allows veterans to be buried with their spouses, and federal veterans cemeteries permit burials of same-sex couples.

Taylor presented her valid honorable discharge papers and valid marriage certificate – the two were legally married in 2008 in California – but the state refused her application.

“I got rather perturbed and left, and joined the ‘Add the 4 Words’ movement to change the state law,” Taylor said. She joined protests at the state Capitol this year calling on Idaho to add discrimination protections for gays to the Idaho Human Rights Act; Taylor was arrested three times, including once when she joined a barricade of the governor’s office.

Otter issued this statement on the issue in April: “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.”

His office said Monday that the statement still stands.

Taylor said, “I figure if he wants to stick by the law, we’ve got to change the law – that’s all there is to it.”

Idaho’s constitutional ban on same-sex marriage was ruled unconstitutional by a federal judge in May, but the state is appealing the ruling. “I don’t have time to wait around,” Taylor said. “If it goes to the Supreme Court, the earliest they can hear it is 2015.”

Taylor’s lawsuit says, “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.

“The first time I can remember being discriminated against was in kindergarten,” Taylor said. “I wasn’t allowed to play in the sandbox with the trucks. I had to go over to the dollhouse with the dolls. I said, ‘No, no, this is not me.’ So I’ve been discriminated against for 70 years, and I can’t see doing it when I’m dropping dead.”

Todd Dvorak, spokesman for Idaho Attorney Lawrence Wasden, said, “We just got the lawsuit. We’re just in the process of reviewing it and figuring out what it means.”

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