U.S. News

Idaho veteran denied burial site for lesbian spouse offered plot by fellow vet

SALMON, Idaho (Reuters) - A retired U.S. Army colonel on Wednesday offered up his burial plot in the Idaho State Veterans Cemetery to a veteran barred by state marriage laws and military rules from interring her ashes and those of her dead lesbian spouse.

The push by U.S. Navy veteran Madelynn Taylor and a woman she married out-of-state comes as four Idaho lesbian couples are challenging the state’s constitutional ban on same-sex marriage and a broader debate over gay nuptials nationwide.

Taylor told a Boise TV station the state military cemetery denied the pair burial as they did not have the Idaho marriage license required under its rules. Her longtime lesbian partner, Jean Mixner, died in 2012.

“I am happy to give my fellow veteran that small peace of mind,” retired U.S. Army Colonel Barry Johnson, a 27-year veteran, wrote in an open letter published on Wednesday in the Idaho Statesman newspaper. “And I do it to honor all the great Americans I’ve served with along the way - gay, straight, whatever.”

It was unclear if the cemetery would allow the transfer. The Idaho Division of Veterans Services said the cemetery’s policy remains unchanged.

Taylor was undergoing surgery at a veterans hospital in Seattle on Wednesday and could not be reached for comment.

Earlier this month, Taylor told KBOI, the Boise TV station, that she was not surprised the Western state moved to bar the couple’s burial. She described the policy as yet another act of discrimination “in death as well as life.”

“I don’t see where the ashes of a couple of old lesbians are going to hurt anybody,” she said.

Idaho’s Republican Governor C.L. “Butch” Otter said in a statement that voters in the state spoke in 2006 by approving a constitutional amendment defining marriage as between a man and a woman.

Reporting by Laura Zuckerman in Salmon, Idaho; Editing by Eric M. Johnson and; Edwina Gibbs