Madelynn Taylor, a U.S. Navy veteran and Idaho resident, wanted to be buried with the ashes of her late wife. Unfortunately, when Taylor went to make the burial plot arrangements in 2013, she was denied by the Idaho State Veterans Cemetery — because the two were both women. Now, the 74-year-old Navy veteran Taylor is challenging the same-sex spouse burial ban with a federal civil rights lawsuit. Taylor filed the lawsuit Monday in the U.S. District Court in Boise.
Although federal veterans cemeteries allow same-sex spouses to be buried together, Idaho's veterans cemetery is ran by the state government, which causes problems for Idaho's gay residents. Same-sex marriage is currently illegal in Idaho, and the state doesn't recognize same-sex couples who married in other states. Although Idaho's ban on gay marriage was overturned by a federal judge in May, same-sex marriages are still not allowed or recognized because the ruling is currently stayed by the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.
Taylor and her late wife, Jean Mixner, are one of the many same-sex marriages that Idaho doesn't deem valid. The couple got married in California in 2008 shortly before the state banned same-sex marriage.
[This situation is] among the most extreme examples of the harm caused by state laws that deny respect to the marriages of same-sex couples," Christopher Stoll, a senior attorney with the National Center for Lesbian Rights, told The AP. "Denying these important protections to committed couples is not simply unjust, it is needlessly cruel."
According to local news station KBOI 2, Taylor began making burial arrangements after Mixner died in 2012 because her health is getting worse. She said she "wasn't surprised" when she went to the Idaho State Veterans Cemetery and was told she and Mixner couldn't be interred together.
"I've been discriminated against for 70 years, and they might as well discriminate against me in death as well as life," Taylor told the station.
Meanwhile, Idaho Gov. Butch Otter stood by his state's same-sex marriage ban in a public 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.
Although the governor and same-sex marriage opponents see this case as a way to uphold the institution of marriage, for people like Taylor it's the right to be laid to rest next to her long-time love — a right that's currently exclusive to heterosexual couples. "I don't see where the ashes of a couple old lesbians is going to hurt anyone," Taylor told the news station.