Why One Idaho Veteran Can’t Rest in Peace with her Spouse
An Idaho veteran and widow was recently left reeling when, in making arrangements for her own funeral, she was shocked to discover the state veterans cemetery will not allow her to be buried with her partner because, they say, they must follow Idaho’s ban on same-sex marriage.
Madelyn “Lee” Taylor, a 74-year-old retired veteran who served in the United States Navy for six years before being dishonorably discharged for no other reason than being openly gay, recently had to deal with the loss of her wife Jean Mixner. The couple, who had lived in Boise, Idaho had been together since 1995 and were legally married in California in 2008. Mixner died of emphysema in 2012 and was cremated per her wishes. Taylor is still in possession of her spouse’s ashes and had hoped that when her own time came she would be able to be laid to rest with her partner’s remains in the Idaho Veterans Cemetery.
As such, Taylor began making inquiries so that she could place Mixner’s ashes in the cemetery to wait for her until her own death. This is something that heterosexual married couples have done for many years, and given that the federal government has made it clear that same-sex spouses are recognized for the purpose of federal law, there should have been no barrier to this arrangement.
However, Taylor was then told by Idaho’s military cemetery that it could not allow her wishes to be fulfilled. The reason the cemetery is using is that, per Idaho’s 2006 constitutional amendment which reads “A marriage between a man and a woman is the only domestic legal union that shall be valid or recognized in this state,” same-sex marriages aren’t recognized under state law and because this is a state facility, they argue, they cannot recognize Taylor and Mixner as spouses.
“I’m not surprised. I’ve been discriminated against for 70 years, and they might as well discriminate against me in death as well as life,” Taylor is quoted as saying. “It’s not taking up any more space to have both of us in there, and I don’t see where the ashes of a couple of old lesbians is going to hurt anybody.”
Taylor and Mixner’s ashes could be buried together, and their fidelity as spouses recognized, in a national military cemetery. Taylor argues that this isn’t the point, though. Taylor and Mixner both still have family in that area and, besides, Taylor argues that the state should not be in the business of such mean-spirited discrimination.
Taylor has been part of a local state effort, the Add the (Four) Words campaign, that is attempting to pressure Idaho lawmakers to add sexual orientation and gender identity-inclusive language to the state’s human rights act. Taylor has said that, despite the same-sex marriage ban, she believes that were that language added to the human rights act she would have clear protection under state law: the state doesn’t have to recognize same-sex marriages, only that her marriage was and is valid in California, and all other states that recognize same-sex marriage, and by federal law.
Taylor has said that, in the eventuality that she dies before this matter is resolved, both her own ashes and Mixner’s will be given to a friend, who will be charged with keeping them until such a time that the couple can be buried together, their spousal relationship fully honored and recognized.
There is, of course, an ongoing court effort to have the same-sex marriage ban overturned that could provide Taylor the legal recourse she needs, and it may be that in the fullness of time she will have strong cause to join this lawsuit.
Four Idaho same-sex couples are currently suing the state in the Boies District Courts. In the suit, filed in November of last year, they contend the constitutional and state bans are unlawful because “Idaho’s exclusion of same-sex couples from marriage and refusal to respect existing marriages undermines the plaintiff couples’ ability to achieve their life goals and dreams, disadvantages them financially and denies them ‘dignity and status of immense import.’ …. Further, they and their children are stigmatized and relegated to a second-class status by being barred from marriage.”
It would seem the treatment that Taylor has received because of the ban is a startling example of just how pervasive and damaging it is to face the discrimination this lawsuit is trying to fight, and why the ban should be retired without delay.
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