When Boise Weekly tells a personal story with profound public consequence, we have learned to expect that such reports generate a fair amount of conversation and even more Internet traffic. And then there's our story of Madelynn Taylor--and if you haven't heard of her by now, welcome back from that rock you've been under.
"My phone rang off the hook after the first story was printed. My email inbox was packed," said Taylor, reaching for a stack of cards, mostly from media outlets. "And look at all of these business cards that were handed to me."
Soon after BW first reported about how Taylor, a U.S. Navy veteran, had been turned away after asking that she and her wife be interred at the Idaho State Veterans Cemetery (BW, News, "Malice Toward None, Charity for All" April 23, 2014), the story went viral. From ABC News to the Washington Post, the U.K.'s Daily Mail and Jon Stewart's The Daily Show, millions have read, watched and listened to how Taylor proudly served her nation--yet the state of Idaho did not consider her an equal to other veterans because she loved a woman.
"Look at this," said Taylor pointing to published letters from fellow vets to editors of several daily newspapers. "And this letter... and this... and this."
To the person, the veterans supported Taylor's request for her, and her wife's, burial at Idaho's veterans cemetery.
"That's because veterans have worked with gay people their whole lives." said Taylor. "If I had the chance, I'd like to thank them for their support. I guess they know better than the governor."
And the men and women employed at the Idaho Division of Veterans Service, who denied Taylor's burial request, work at the pleasure of Idaho Gov. C.L. "Butch" Otter. And the governor dug his boot heels in a bit deeper a few days after BW chronicled Taylor's dilemma.
"The veteran's cemetery rules require a valid marriage certificate in order for a spouse to be buried with a veteran. Idaho's constitution does not recognize same-sex marriage," wrote Otter in an April 20 statement. "I am defending ... the Idaho Constitution in federal court, so I'm not going to comment any further."
But Otter lost that fight less than a month later, when U.S. District Court Judge Candy Dale declared that the Idaho Constitution had relegated Taylor and Idaho's LGBT citizens to a "stigmatized second-class status" (BW, Citydesk, "Historic Ruling," May 13, 2014).
Boise-based attorney Deborah Ferguson was a victor in that court battle, along with co-counsels Craig Durham and the National Center for Lesbian Rights, all representing four Idaho same-sex couples.
"I think It's quite lovely that veterans are supporting Madelynn, and I think it goes right to the heart of the argument. Treating people with respect and fairness trumps any preconceived notion of discrimination against gay people," Ferguson told BW.
While Taylor was not a plaintiff in the initial federal court lawsuit against the Idaho Constitution, the 74-year-old Navy veteran "would have been a wonderful plaintiff to include in the marriage equality case," according to Ferguson.
"Madelynn's plight really shows the full coverage of this same-sex marriage issue," said Ferguson. "Madelynn's denial of the right to be buried with her spouse at the Idaho veterans cemetery shows the full arc of the issue."
But Ferguson's courtroom battle against Idaho for gender equity is not over--not by a long shot.
"The governor and the Idaho attorney general have to file their general brief to the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals by Thursday, June 19. And our response to that brief on behalf of the plaintiffs is due to the court by Friday, July 18. Then, our oral arguments will take place before what we expect to be a three-judge 9th Circuit panel during the week of Sept. 8."
Meanwhile, Otter has made the unusual request of asking that the 9th Circuit be comprised of an 11-judge panel instead of its traditional three-judge panel in September; but Ferguson, who has argued before the 9th Circuit on numerous occasions, said Otter shouldn't hold his breath.
"I don't know of any decision like that in my career--and I've been practicing almost 30 years--where a full-panel presided over an original matter. Something like that request usually comes when there's a reconsideration of a ruling from a court of appeals," said Ferguson.
Simply put, Otter has already telegraphed his next move. Should his appeal fail before the 9th Circuit, the governor has already indicated that he's anxious to keep bumping up against the issue until he hears a judge tell him what he wants to hear.
That doesn't intimidate Ferguson. A visitor to her downtown Boise law office might want to take note of a rather impressive framed certificate on her wall; it includes the image of a very familiar marble building in Washington, D.C.
"Yes, that's a certificate to argue before the United States Supreme Court," said Ferguson. "So, we would be more than ready."
The case of the four couples challenging Idaho's constitutional ban on same-sex marriages, formally known as Latta v. Otter, is not simply about wedding ceremonies. Tax law, parenthood and even end-of-life decisions are all at stake.
"Idaho's marriage laws deny same-sex couples the economic, practical, emotional and spiritual benefits of marriage," wrote U.S. Judge Dale in the May 13 ruling. "Plaintiffs suffer these injuries not because they are unqualified to marry, start a family, or grow old together, but because of who they are and whom they love."
And Taylor loved Jean Mixner. After meeting on Saint Patrick's Day 1995, the two were inseparable--marrying in an Oregon church in 1995 and again in California, at the San Bernardino County Courthouse, in 2008. But Jean died in April 2012, succumbing to complications related to emphysema, at their home in Apache County, Ariz.
"I recently returned to Arizona. It's the first time I was back there since Jean died," Taylor told BW. "I think enough time had passed. Our house is up for sale."
But Taylor still has Jean's ashes. She has visited the Idaho State Veterans Cemetery--twice now--to inquire about the possibility of Jean's ashes accompanying her own in one of the cemetery's granite columbariums.
"And when I went back to the cemetery I officially filled out a burial application form," said Taylor. "The cemetery supervisor said he would send me an answer to my application. But this time, I said, 'Send it to my lawyer.'"
And that would be, you guessed it, Ferguson.
"Madelynn is an absolutely fascinating, resilient person--lots of grit but very charming," Ferguson told BW, adding that it was important for the legal team to focus on September's 9th Circuit arguments.
"First thing's first," she said.