Leaning on a sturdy walker for support, Madelynn Lee Taylor walked into the office of the Idaho State Veterans Cemetery with one simple goal.
Taylor is 74 years old, a veteran, widow and church deacon. She wanted to register for a niche in the columbarium, wanted her service to her country honored, her marriage vows celebrated.
But the seven words she uttered after "I need paperwork to fill out for reservations" rendered the spare earth-tone lobby momentarily silent. "This," she said, "is for me and my wife."
The clerk summoned her supervisor. Apologies all around. The military cemetery is run by the state, they told Taylor, and Idaho's Constitution bans same-sex marriage. We must, they said, follow state law.
Taylor turned around. Walked back out. And began to boil.
Today, the Navy veteran, who enlisted for two tours of duty, is a little closer to her goal because on May 13, federal Chief Magistrate Judge Candy Wagahoff Dale declared the Idaho marriage ban unconstitutional.
The Gem State's prohibition is among the most severe in the country, outlawing same-sex marriage, civil unions and domestic partnerships — any relationship, legislators here said in early descriptions of the ban, that "attempts to approximate marriage." It also forbids state agencies from recognizing out-of-state marriages such as Taylor's.
Republican Gov. C.L. "Butch" Otter has appealed Dale's decision and wants the ban to remain in place at least until his appeal can be heard. A three-judge panel of the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals has agreed — for now.
And the ashes of Jean Francis Mixner, beloved wife, remain in a box in Taylor's bedroom closet, where the newly minted activist talks to them each evening. One recent topic of conversation: Taylor's fight to become the first female veteran interred in Idaho's military cemetery with her wife.
"I just asked her if she's with me," Taylor said. "She said, 'Yes. Go for it.'"
Taylor enlisted in 1958. She was 18 and her mother had recently given birth to her younger sister, Kathy. The medical bills were steep. Taylor knew there would be no money for college, "and I liked the dress blues."
Her first tour of duty ended in 1961, and she immediately re-upped. But at Naval Air Station Corpus Christi, Texas, everything began to unravel.
A female recruit wanted out of the service, Taylor said, and told commanding officers she was a lesbian. She named other women as well, Taylor among them.
It was 1964, long before rainbow flags and pride parades. Taylor was offered a court-martial or an undesirable discharge. She chose the latter.
A decade or so later, the Navy changed its policy, allowing those kicked out because of their sexual orientation to apply for honorable discharges so they could receive full military benefits. In 1979, Taylor became a veteran in good standing.
Taylor and Mixner met on a blind date in Kansas City, Mo., in 1995, and "she just knocked me over, right there," Taylor said. "I was 55, so she was 49, six years' difference. Big blue eyes behind glasses. We spent the whole night playing gay trivia games."
A year later, at a church retreat, they were joined in a holy union ceremony wearing matching plaid blazers. In 2008, while visiting Taylor's brother in Needles, Calif., they were legally married three weeks before state voters passed Proposition 8.
Mixner had been diagnosed with emphysema early in the women's relationship. By 2011, she needed around-the-clock care. The morphine she was administered made her confused and prone to wandering off.
"She'd been getting sicker and sicker and wandering more, so I put an alarm on her bed," Taylor said. "When she got out of bed, it rang an alarm and woke me."
One night their dog had soiled their new bedspread. So Taylor changed the linens, put her wife to bed, put the dirty laundry in the washing machine and sat down to watch television.