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Eye on Boise: Rally decries veterans cemetery’s same-sex ban

Sun., May 4, 2014

“Add the Words” protesters returned to the Idaho state Capitol last week where roughly 180 were arrested during this year’s legislative session while pressing unsuccessfully for a hearing on legislation to add the words “sexual orientation” and “gender identity” to the Idaho Human Rights Act and to ban discrimination on those grounds.

This time, the peaceful protesters carried a personal message: That of Madelynn Lee Taylor, a 74-year-old U.S. Navy veteran who’s been denied her request to be buried with her same-sex spouse at the Idaho State Veterans Cemetery.

Idaho Gov. Butch Otter said in a statement: “The veterans’ 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.”

Idaho is being sued in federal court by four same-sex couples challenging the ban on same-sex marriage as a violation of their constitutional rights. Idaho’s ban also forbids any form of civil union or domestic partnership for same-sex partners. Oral arguments in the case are set for Monday.

The protesters, most wearing “Add the 4 Words”-emblazoned shirts, carried signs with such messages as “Gov. Otter, choose compassion over politics” and “Gov. Otter, let Lee and Jean rest together.” They marched from the Lincoln statue a block from the Capitol to the hallway outside the governor’s office. Some carried photocopied pictures of the two women.

“I think the governor needs to take a compassionate stand,” said Ty Carson, a gay Idaho Army National Guard veteran who served from 1990 to 1999. “Lee should be allowed to be buried next to her partner.”

Taylor wasn’t at the demonstration, as she was en route to a VA hospital in Seattle for an operation. Judy Cross, a friend and fellow deacon with Taylor at Liberating Spirit Metropolitan Community Church, said, “She’s got a good prognosis, but they can’t do it here.”

Taylor’s wife, Jean Mixner, died about a year and a half ago; the two were married in California in 2008. Taylor has kept her ashes in her closet while she fights with the state over burial. She recently told the Associated Press, “I don’t see where the ashes of a couple old lesbians is going to hurt anyone.”

Cross said, “They’re just a magnificent couple who loved each other absolutely dearly and were soul mates.” Taylor served in the Navy from 1958 to 1964, when she was discharged for being gay; she later petitioned and had her discharge revised to an honorable one.

Falling far short

When the April 30 deadline rolled around to turn in signatures to qualify initiatives for the November ballot, neither measure that was being circulated in Idaho made the mark, or even came close.

The backers of the initiative to legalize medical marijuana turned in only 559 signatures, according to the Idaho secretary of state’s office, while those pushing for an increased minimum wage in Idaho had 8,301 qualified signatures at the deadline. Each needed 53,751 to qualify for the November ballot.

College funding drops

Idaho has cut its state funding for public colleges and universities by 36.8 percent since 2008, more than all but five other states, according to a new report from Idaho KidsCount and the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities. The report showed that, adjusted for inflation and in constant 2013 dollars, Idaho cut funding by 36.8 percent, a decrease of $3,857 per higher ed student. Meanwhile, average tuition at Idaho’s public four-year colleges increased 28.5 percent.

“Areas with highly educated residents tend to attract employers who pay competitive wages. That’s what Idaho needs,” said Lauren Necochea, director of Idaho KidsCount. “We should be looking for ways to make college more affordable for students and their families.”

Michael Mitchell, policy analyst with the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, said: “More jobs in the future will require college-educated workers. For the sake of its economy and future workforce, Idaho should start reinvesting in its colleges and universities now.”

The group’s report found that the highest percentage drop in higher ed funding came in Arizona, followed by Louisiana, South Carolina, Oregon, Alabama and Idaho. The biggest drop measured by inflation-adjusted dollars per student came in Louisiana, followed by Hawaii, New Mexico, Alabama and Idaho.

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