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Navy veteran suing Idaho for same-sex burial

Tue., July 8, 2014

Madelynn Lee Taylor has sued after being denied permission to be buried with her wife at the Idaho State Veterans Cemetery. (Betsy Russell)
Madelynn Lee Taylor has sued after being denied permission to be buried with her wife at the Idaho State Veterans Cemetery. (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 marriage.

“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 VA 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 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 2013 to arrange for the interment, something she and Mixner had decided on back in 2005 after attending Mixner’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 Idaho refused her application. In a letter to Taylor explaining the refusal, cemetery director James Earp wrote: “Your application indicates that you and Ms. Mixner are female. Same-sex marriages entered into under the laws of another state violate the public policy in Idaho and are not valid in Idaho.”

Taylor joined protests at the state Capitol this year calling on Idaho to add discrimination protections for gays to the Idaho Human Rights Act. She 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.

Idaho’s 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.”

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