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Today was the third time that 74-year-old Navy veteran Madelynn Lee Taylor visited the Idaho State Veterans Cemetery to make arrangements to be buried there together with the remains of her late wife, Jean Mixner, but today’s outcome was different – Taylor completed all the necessary paperwork, picked out the plaque, and an interment ceremony was set for Mixner for next week.
“It’s done!” a relieved Taylor said as she left the cemetery office, throwing both hands into the air in triumph.
Her original application for the burial had been denied, citing Idaho’s ban on recognition of same-sex marriage. Taylor and Mixner were legally married in California in 2008. But now that courts have overturned Idaho’s ban as unconstitutional, the state can legally recognize the two women’s marriage. Cemetery Director James Earp welcomed Taylor to her appointment at the cemetery office today, helped her through the paperwork, and congratulated her with a handshake when it was done.
Accompanied by her pastor, the Rev. Renee McCall of Liberating Spirit Metropolitan Community Church, her lawyer, Deborah Ferguson, and an array of friends and supporters, Taylor let her relief show. “It’s a good day – we get to get Jean out of the closet!” she joked. McCall responded, “I just know she’s up there smiling and shining – she’s proud of you.” Said Taylor: “She’s dancing.”
Taylor filed a federal lawsuit against the state over the denial, but that’s moot now; the case is expected to be dismissed soon. Said Ferguson: “Lee deserves credit for shining a powerful light on the injustice and indignity caused by Idaho’s former exclusion of same-sex couples from marriage. Her persistence, visibility, and refusal to accept inequality are a model for us all.”
Here’s a link to my full story at spokesman.com on today’s federal lawsuit against the state of Idaho from Madelynn Lee Taylor, a 74-year-old Navy veteran who’s been refused permission to be buried with the cremated remains of her wife at the Idaho State Veterans Cemetery because of the state’s ban on same-sex marriage - which a federal court has ruled unconstitutional, but the state’s appealing. Taylor said she headed to court now because of concerns about her health. “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.”
With a laugh, she asked, “What harm can the ashes of two old lesbians do – do they expect us to be recruiting in there?” 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.”
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.”
‘Add the Words’ protesters return to Capitol, on behalf of 74-year-old vet who wants to be buried with her wife
“Add the Words” protesters returned to the Idaho state Capitol today, where roughly 180 were arrested during the course of this year’s legislative session pressing unsuccessfully for a hearing on legislation to add the words “sexual orientation” and “gender identity” to the Idaho Human Rights Act, to ban discrimination on those grounds. Today, 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.
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 held small cutout hearts in front of their mouths during the silent protest, in which they marched from the Lincoln statue on Capitol Boulevard to the hallway outside the governor’s office. Some carried photocopied pictures of the two women.
Ty Carson, an Idaho Army National Guard veteran who served from 1990 to 1999, brought along her late father’s American flag; he was a veteran who served in Vietnam. “He was a gay man,” Carson said. “My father had to live in the closet.” Carson said, “I think the governor needs to take a compassionate stand. … Lee should be allowed to be buried next to her partner.”
Taylor wasn’t at the demonstration, as she was en route to a V.A. hospital in Seattle for a serious 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.” Cross is also president of the Idaho Interfaith Alliance.
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.
Idaho Gov. Butch Otter said in a statement, “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.”
Idaho is currently being sued in federal court by four same-sex couples, challenging that 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.