A former U.S. Army colonel is offering his burial plot to fellow veteran Madelynn Taylor so that she can be buried with her wife, a request that had been denied by state officials citing Idaho’s ban on same-sex marriage.
Madelynn Taylor, 74, knew she didn’t have much time left after her wife, Jean Mixner, died in 2012. Last December, Taylor decided to get her affairs in order and went to the Idaho State Veterans Cemetery to inquire about a shared burial plot.
Her request was denied.
The Idaho State Veterans Cemetery requires a valid marriage certificate for a non-military spouse to be buried alongside a veteran. Though Mixner and Taylor were married in California in 2008, their marriage isn’t recognized in Idaho which passed a constitutional amendment in 2006 banning same sex marriage.
Though Taylor, who served in the Navy from 1958 to 1964, during the tumultuous years of the Vietnam War, could be buried alongside Mixner in a national veterans cemetery, she wants to be buried in Idaho where her family lives and where she built a life with her longtime partner.
“I just feel that it’s the right place for me. You know, I’m a veteran,” Taylor told the Associated Press. “So they should let me … in fact they would let me alone, be in that crypt,” she said. “But I don’t want to be alone. I want Jean with me.”
“I don’t see where the ashes of a couple old lesbians is going to hurt anyone,” Taylor told a local TV station.
After Taylor’s story was picked up by the press last week, Barry Johnson, a retired veteran from Potlach, Idaho, decided to offer his burial plot to the elderly couple.
Madelynn Taylor “seems like one heck of a lady” Johnson, a 27-year veteran of two wars, wrote in a letter published in the Idaho Statesman on Wednesday:
She cared for another person with all her heart and had to watch that person die. She is a veteran. She loves her country. She wants her partner by her side and she wants to eternally rest among veterans in the state she made home.
Madelynn, you deserve that.
I’ll tell you what. I will donate the plot I earned in the Idaho State Veterans Cemetery to you and Jean. I am happy to give my fellow veteran that small peace of mind. And I do it to honor all the great Americans I’ve served with along the way — gay, straight, whatever.
Taylor was undergoing surgery at a veterans hospital in Seattle on Wednesday and could not be reached for comment, a local radio station reported.
“We’re very sympathetic to her challenge,” David E. Brasuell, administrator of the Idaho Division of Veteran Services, told the Boise Weekly last week. “We hope that the state and federal regulations would get in line, but this [veteran] has earned these benefits due to her honorable service.”
However it’s unclear whether the cemetery will allow the burial site to be donated.
Taylor has said she plans to have someone hold on to her ashes and Jean’s, which are currently in her closet in a box with a cross on top, until the rules change.
Taylor has waited her whole life for the rules to change. At first she kept quiet about her sexual identity. While serving in the military she was “outed” to senior officers. She refused to identify other gay service members when asked, she told the Boise Weekly. As for herself? “I couldn’t lie under oath,” she said. She was discharged. (In 1979, she successfully petitioned for her dismissal to be reclassified as an honorable discharge, restoring her military benefits).
Taylor kept a low profile after leaving the military and resumed a quiet life in Boise. She decided to live openly as a lesbian after the Rev. Jerry Falwell came to Boise in the 1980s, she told a local TV station. His rhetoric about homosexuals made her feel her voice needed to be heard.
She met Mixner on St. Patrick’s Day in 1995. It was love at first sight she told the Boise Weekly
“Jean was …” Taylor paused and looked away for a moment. “Well, Jean was a lady.”
And yes, it was love at first sight.
Taylor’s voice immediately softened: “I met Jean Mixner on a blind date in Kansas City, Mo. We sat up all night that first night playing Gay Trivia all night. We met for breakfast the next morning. We were a couple from the moment on,” Taylor recalled.
When Taylor returned home to Boise, she and Mixner racked up some hefty phone bills, prompting Mixner, who was retired after working for years as an insurance executive, to sell her house and pack her bags for Boise.
“Life was good,” said Taylor. “I worked the farm and Jean ran a transgender support group, helping people with how to put their makeup on right. Plus, she was one of the clergy at the Metropolitan Community Church.”
In 1995, the two were married in an MCC Church in Boardman, Ore., and in 2008, they were married again at the San Bernardino County Courthouse in California.
Then Mixner got sick. She was a smoker with severe emphysema. The couple spent their final days together driving coast to coast in an RV, from the Jersey Shore to Apache County, Ariz. On April 19, 2012, Taylor dozed off and woke up to find Mixner had removed her oxygen tank and gone outside. Taylor found her wife dead on the neighbor’s lawn. “I think she was there because she used to like to look at our garden from the neighbor’s yard,” Taylor told the Boise Weekly.
Since Mixner’s death, Taylor has become an outspoken supporter of LGBTQ rights. A member of the Add the Words campaign to make discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity illegal, the 74-year-old veteran was arrested twice this year on March 12 and 19 at protests that blocked entrances to the Idaho Statehouse, the Boise Weekly reported.