Veteran files suit for burial rights in Idaho

Today, the National Center for Lesbian Rights, and Boise attorneys Deborah A. Ferguson and Craig Durham, filed a lawsuit on behalf of Madelynn Lee Taylor, a 74-year-old military veteran, challenging an Idaho state law prohibiting her from being buried in the Idaho State Veterans Cemetery with her late wife, Jean Mixner.

Taylor served in the Navy from 1958 to 1964. In 2013, she tried to make advance arrangements to have her ashes interred with those of her wife in a granite columbarium at the Idaho State Veterans Cemetery, as other veterans and their spouses are permitted. Though Mixner and Taylor were married in California in 2008, cemetery employees refused her request because Idaho law does not recognize their marriage.

The lawsuit argues that Idaho’s law prohibiting recognition of same-sex marriages in other states violates the United States Constitution’s guarantee of equal protection and due process.

“Idaho is where some of our best memories together are and it’s where I want to spend eternity with Jean,” Taylor said. “I could be buried here alone, but I don’t want to be alone. I want Jean with me forever.”

Said Ferguson: “It is inexcusable that the State of Idaho refuses to honor the wishes of a veteran of our armed forces to be buried together with her spouse. The state’s disrespect for a veteran’s honorable service to our country is one of the clearest examples of the harm and indignity that Idaho’s discriminatory marriage laws inflict on same-sex couples throughout the state. The state’s treatment of Ms. Taylor and her late wife violates the most basic principles of equality and respect for human dignity enshrined in our Constitution.”

The lawsuit follows a landmark marriage equality victory in Idaho. On May 13, Chief U.S. Magistrate Judge Candy W. Dale ordered the State of Idaho to allow same-sex couples to marry, and to recognize the marriages of couples who married in other states after four same-sex couples challenged state law. The couples in that case are also represented by NCLR and attorneys Ferguson and Durham.

Idaho Governor Butch Otter and Attorney General Lawrence Wasden have appealed Judge Dale’s decision to the Ninth Circuit. The appeal will be argued Sept. 8 in San Francisco.

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