SALMON Idaho (Reuters) - A gay veteran who was denied her wish to be buried one day with her late lesbian spouse in an Idaho military cemetery filed a lawsuit on Monday accusing the state of violating her constitutional right to equal protection by not recognizing her same-sex union.
A request by U.S. Navy veteran Madelynn Taylor, 74, to have her ashes interred after she dies with those of a woman she married in California was rejected earlier this year by the Idaho Division of Veterans Services. The state’s constitution defines marriage as between a man and a woman.
A federal judge’s ruling in May overturned Idaho’s prohibition on gay nuptials, but that decision was put on hold pending an appeal by the state to be argued before a U.S. appeals court in September.
Taylor’s spouse, Jean Mixner, was not a military veteran. She died in 2012, and Taylor has her ashes.
The push to share a burial site comes as lawsuits seeking to overturn state bans on same-sex marriage move toward likely hearings in the U.S. Supreme Court next year. Same-sex unions are legal in 19 states and the District of Columbia.
In the lawsuit filed in U.S. District Court in Boise, attorneys for Taylor argued that Idaho’s refusal to acknowledge her marriage and allow her ashes to be buried in the Idaho State Veterans Cemetery alongside Mixner’s denied Taylor the rights afforded other veterans in Idaho.
The cemetery allows spouses of veterans to be buried with them on request, even if spouses have not themselves served. Veterans must show “valid” marriage licenses to gain that privilege.
“This case is a vivid illustration of why the time has come for courts to strike down these discriminatory laws,” said Shannon Minter, legal director for the National Center for Lesbian Rights.
“There is no justification for denying Madelynn the simple dignity and respect of being buried with her spouse.”
David Brasuell, head of the Idaho Division of Veterans Services, said in a statement that Idaho’s constitution and statutes did not recognize same-sex marriages, including those carried out in other states.
“Until the matter is finally resolved by the U.S. Supreme Court, we are not able to make any further comment,” he said.
Taylor said she had expected her burial request to be turned down by Idaho, a Western state known for its conservative social policies and politics.
“What’s the harm of two old lesbians being buried in the veterans cemetery? I’m sure we won’t be recruiting anybody there,” she told Reuters on Monday.
Reporting by Laura Zuckerman; Editing by Daniel Wallis and Peter Cooney