News

'Til Death Did They Part

Veteran's same-sex wife is remembered in history-making ceremony at Idaho State Veterans Cemetery

by

Pastor Renee McCall walked over to the small wooden box holding the ashes of Jean Mixner and placed her hand on the sacred container, just above a cross.

"And now, we commit our sister Jean to a final resting place where she will wait for thee," McCall said, just loud enough for Madelynn Taylor to hear. "Blessed is she who died in the Christ: for now on, she will rest from her labors, she will rest from her deeds."

A few hundred feet away, an American flag flapped in a steady breeze, set against a perfect blanket of blue sky. The ashes of Jean Mixner had finally come home to rest among the brave men and women interred at the Idaho State Veterans Cemetery. It is there that she'll wait for Taylor, her wife, who is a U.S. Navy veteran.

"Jean was..." Taylor needed a moment to think. "Well, Jean was a lady," she told Boise Weekly earlier this year (BW, News, "Malice Toward None, Charity for All," June 23, 2014).

It was that first report, when we called Taylor's fight to be interred with her spouse at the cemetery perhaps "the most egregious example of LGBT discrimination by the state of Idaho," that spurred national attention and a formal legal challenge. Months later, in the wake of landmark federal rulings that struck down Idaho's ban of same-sex marriages as unconstitutional, Taylor returned to the cemetery Oct. 28—this time with Jean's ashes for a formal burial ceremony.

It was St. Patrick's Day 1995 when Taylor met Mixner on a blind date in Kansas City, Mo. They sat up all night with friends, playing trivia, and met for breakfast the next morning. They were a couple from then on. They were married twice: in a Boardman, Ore., church and again at a San Bernardino, Calif., county courthouse.

"Jean had a corsage and I had a boutonniere," Taylor recalled.

Her voice softened. "And then she got sick."

They spent the better part of their years in Idaho, but while in Arizona, Jean's severe emphysema took a turn when it devoured her lungs. On April 19, 2012, Taylor woke to find that Mixner had wandered from their home and laid down to die in a flower bed on a neighbor's lawn. Jean's ashes were never far from Taylor—they were kept in the wooden box until it made its way to the Idaho Veterans Cemetery on Oct. 28.

"Today, we come to mourn and honor Jean Mixner and set her spirit free," said McCall. "I knew Jean. I can still hear her voice; I can still hear her laughter. She was soft, gentle and spoke quietly. Jean was a very peaceful, loving human being. And with that, I believe that this explains how Jean would feel: 'My peace, I give to you.'"

McCall led the small gathering in the song "For Those Tears I Died":

"And Jesus said, 'Come to the water. Stand by my side. I know you are thirsty. You won't be denied."

When McCall asked Taylor to stand and say a few words about her wife, Taylor embodied melancholy. She repeated what she had told BW before.

"When I first met Jean, my first impression was, 'This is a lady. She won't have anything to do with me,'" said Taylor.

Of course that wasn't true. Taylor told us previously that it was indeed love at first sight. "She was a lady. She was gracious all the time. I don't know what else to tell you other than she was a lovely person," Taylor said.

Then she paused, taking another moment to finish her final thoughts.

"Right up to the end."

As the brief ceremony ended, BW spotted Deborah Ferguson and Craig Durham, the Boise-based attorneys who joined the National Center for Lesbian Rights to represent Taylor in her lawsuit seeking civil rights protections under the U.S. Constitution (BW, News, "Enough is Enough," July 9, 2014).

"This is deeply satisfying," Ferguson told BW. "It's a beautiful day and wonderful to see this come to fruition. It's an important day for Madelynn."

Ferguson also successfully argued before U.S. District Judge Candy Dale and a panel of justices with the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals, all of whom ruled that Idaho's ban of same-sex marriage had relegated select Idaho citizens to a "stigmatized, second-class status."

A series of election-season maneuvers by Gov. C.L. "Butch" Otter to thwart the decisions ultimately failed, thus allowing Taylor to return to the cemetery and apply for interment for herself and spouse.

"I feel truly honored to have had the opportunity to represent her with my colleagues," said Ferguson. "I greatly admire her tenacity and spirit. She's just a very smart, lovely person."

McCall's parting words for the gathering pleaded with them to be positive.

"Whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is true, whatever is right, whatever is pure... if anything is excellent or praiseworthy, think about those things," she said.