A former military colonel has stepped up where Idaho state has failed, offering his burial plot to a veteran who was denied the chance to rest in peace next to her deceased same-sex spouse.
Regular readers will remember the story of Madelyn “Lee” Taylor, a 74-year-old retired veteran who was recently told by the Idaho veterans cemetery that, because of Idaho’s 2006 amendment banning same-sex marriage recognition, she cannot be laid to rest next to her now deceased spouse, something that heterosexual spouses would likely take for granted.
Taylor has received a great deal of support since her story surfaced late last month. Not so receptive to remedying this blatant and mean-spirited discrimination has been Idaho’s Governor Butch Otter, however, who is hiding behind the notion that because Idaho’s voting public decided against same-sex marriage eight years ago, there’s absolutely no case to answer here.
“The veteran’s cemetery rules require a valid marriage certificate in order for a spouse to be buried with a veteran,” he is quoted as saying in a statement. “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.”
The suit that Otter mentions was filed by four Idaho same-sex couples who are suing in the Boies District Courts, saying that the same-sex marriage ban fails to respect their existing marriages and deprives them of the ability, enjoyed by heterosexuals without question, to live out their lives in dignity through the status of marriage. It also details the financial and emotional burdens the ban causes. No wonder Otter doesn’t want to comment on Taylor’s case, then, because it rather illustrates the plaintiffs’ point and undermines his defense.
However, where the state has failed to step up to affirm Taylor’s constitutional rights, one now retired army colonel from Potlatch has offered Taylor his plot in the Idaho veterans cemetery so that Taylor and her wife might be able to go to their rest together.
Writing an opinion letter in the Idaho Statesman, Barry Johnson says that he doesn’t care if someone is gay or straight, or even if they have anti-LGBT beliefs for that matter, just so long as they aren’t hurting anyone. But, Johnson recognizes, this policy and policies like it do hurt people:
As a lifelong Idahoan and a 27-year Army veteran of two wars, I’ve worked beside heterosexuals, gays, lesbians and bisexuals. I’ve really never wanted to hear about anybody’s sex life or sexual preferences, one way or another. Besides, everybody more or less knew who is who regardless, and I don’t recall anybody in the military ever saying a thing about it. Never.
Then we have Madelynn Taylor, who seems like one heck of a lady. She cared for another person with all her heart and had to watch that person die. She is a veteran. She loves her country. She wants her partner by her side and she wants to eternally rest among veterans in the state she made home.
Madelynn, you deserve that.
I’ll tell you what. I will donate the plot I earned in the Idaho State Veterans Cemetery to you and Jean. I am happy to give my fellow veteran that small peace of mind. And I do it to honor all the great Americans I’ve served with along the way — gay, straight, whatever. (I don’t know whether it is possible to donate my plot, but I am quite sincere about my willingness to do so.)
Johnson closes with a concise and brilliantly stated message to the Idaho state administration and the state’s lawmakers: “Give Madelynn and Jean and others like them a break. Stop finding reasons to make life — and in this case, death — harder than it needs to be. That’s just irritating as hell and disrespectful to boot.”
There’s been no word from the veterans cemetery as to whether they will honor Mr Johnson’s offer. Unfortunately, that seems unlikely. Nevertheless, Mr Johnson offers a startling insight into how most members of the military really don’t care either way on this issue. What they do care about, though, is state administrations attempting to take away the liberties that they have spent their lives in service fighting for.
That’s an important message. Will Idaho hear it?
Photo credit: Thinkstock.
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