An Idaho veterans cemetery is refusing to bury the ashes of a lesbian couple together because the state does not recognize same-sex marriages, KBOI reported on Wednesday.
Madelynn Taylor served in the U.S. Navy from 1958 to 1964. She was discharged along with several other women in her unit after another recruit told superiors that they were gay. But Taylor later petitioned to have her discharge documents read “honorable.”
When Taylor – now, 74 years old, and in failing health – presented those documents along with a certificate of marriage to her late wife, Jean Mixner, the Idaho Veterans Cemetery refused to reserve a joint-spot for the two women’s ashes, something the cemetery allows heterosexual couples to do. That’s because the Idaho Constitution defines marriage as an institution between one man and one woman, and as such, does not consider Taylor and Mixner’s 2008 union valid. (The two legally wed in California before voters enacted Proposition 8, that state’s ban on same-sex nuptials.)
“We have to follow the law,” said Tamara Mackenthun, deputy administrator at the Idaho Division of Veterans Services, to KTVB-TV. “We have to follow the Idaho definition of spouse.”
Taylor disagrees with that logic.
“I don’t see where the ashes of a couple old lesbians is going to hurt anyone,” she told KBOI.
Idaho is one of 33 states that currently prohibits gay couples from marrying, and does not recognize same-sex marriages performed anywhere else. Four gay couples have filed a federal lawsuit seeking to overturn the state’s 2006 voter-approved amendment limiting marriage rights exclusively to heterosexual couples. A hearing is scheduled in that case for May 5.
In recent months, judges have been sensitive to the needs of gay couples when it comes to death-related matters. Last November, a federal judge in Illinois allowed a lesbian couple to receive an expedited marriage license more than six months before that state’s marriage equality law was due to take effect. One of the women was battling a terminal illness and passed away in March. Weeks later, a federal judge in Indiana ordered state officials to recognize the marriage of another same-sex couple because one of the women had been diagnosed with stage-4 ovarian cancer. Theirs was the only marriage in the state affected by the judge’s order.
Taylor said that if she died before the Idaho State Veterans Cemetery agreed to accept her ashes along with Mixner’s, someone else would keep them together until the law changes.
“Eventually I’m going to be there. It’ll happen,” she said to KTVB. “They might as well give up and let us go now.”