2013-JAN-09: The Campaign for Southern Equality includes Tennessee:
The Campaign toured many of the Southern states, including Alabama, Georgia, Mississippi, North Carolina, and South Carolina, and Tennessee. They had local same-sex couples symbolically request marriage licenses and be refused. Their goal was to demonstrate how the marriage laws in these states discriminate against same-sex couples.
Two residents of Tennessee -- Matt and Raymie -- participated in the Campaign on JAN-09 in Morristown, TN:
2013-OCT-21: Four married couples launch lawsuit in federal District Court:
In 2006, voters in Tennessee passed the Tennessee Marriage Protection Amendment. It reinforced the existing state marriage law by amending the state Constitution to ignore same-sex relationships, and to not recognize marriages by same-sex couples, whether they are solemnized or registered in Tennessee or in another state or country. The amendment also banned recognition of civil unions or domestic partnerships. The text of the amendment is:
"The historical institution and legal contract solemnizing the relationship of one man and one woman shall be the only legally recognized marital contract in this state. Any policy or law or judicial interpretation, purporting to define marriage as anything other than the historical institution and legal contract between one man and one woman is contrary to the public policy of this state and shall be void and unenforceable in Tennessee. If another state or foreign jurisdiction issues a license for persons to marry and if such marriage is prohibited in this state by the provisions of this section, then the marriage shall be void and unenforceable in this state." 1
Four same-sex couples from Tennessee launched the lawsuit Tanco v. Haslam in federal District Court. They had been legally married in other states and later relocated to Tennessee. However, the State of Tennessee does not recognize their marriages and considers the couples to be "legal strangers" to each other. The couples do not receive any of the state benefits that married opposite-sex couples do, They also do not receive those federal marriage benefits that depend upon their state first recognizing their marriages. The plaintiffs are attempting to have the federal District Court in Nashville order the State of Tennessee to recognize their status as married couples.
The plaintiffs are:
- Dr. Valeria Tanco and Dr. Sophy Jesty. They are professors of veterinary medicine at the University of Tennessee. They met while students at Cornell University. They married in New York State during 2011.
- Army Reserve Sergeant First Class Ijpe DeKoe and Thom Kostura of Memphis. They were married in New York State in 2011.
- Kellie Miller and Vanessa DeVillez of Greenbrier. They were married in New York State during 2013.
- Matthew Mansell and Johno Espejo of Franklin. They were married in California during 2008 during the few months between the legalization of such marriages by the state courts and before the passing of Proposition 8 by a narrow margin later that year which banned same-sex marriages once more. Marriage equality was later restored by the U.S. Supreme Court in mid-2013.
Their case was based on multiple considerations: that the refusal of Tennessee to recognize their marriages violates:
- Their guarantees of equal protection and due process as stipulated in the U.S. Constitution.
- Their constitutionally protected right to travel from other states to Tennessee, and to relocate to Tennessee.
- Dr. Tanco is pregnant with their first child, whose birth is expecting in 2014-MAR. The couple seeks a guarantee that both parent's rights will be respected and that they will be able to make health and care decisions for their newborn.
None of these are new or special privileges. They are merely asking for the same treatment that opposite-sex couples have always enjoyed: the right to have their existing marriages recognized in their new location.
Supporting the couples is the National Center for Lesbian Rights (NLR) and a group of lawyers. 2
2013-NOV-18: Couples file for summary judgment:
The four couples made a second filing with the court asking for immediate protection for themselves and families while their lawsuit was being considered. It would continue until their main lawsuit is concluded. They point out that their families are at risk for serious harm which can only be prevented if the state were to recognize their marriages.
Plaintiff Dr. Jesty said:
"We filed today’s motion because we want to protect our family. We are expecting a child in a few months, and it is extremely distressing that the law makes it impossible for us both to be recognized as legal parents. We urgently need the same protections as other married couples so that we can give our child the stability and protection she deserves." 2
She also said:
"Getting married not only enabled us to express our love and commitment to one another, but it also provided us with the protections we would need as we started our new lives together. When we moved to Tennessee, we lost those protections. Now that Val is pregnant with our first child, having those protections is more important than ever." 3
Sergeant DeKoe said:
"Fairness and equality are the guiding principles of our government, and as a member of the armed forces, I have fought and will continue to fight for those principles. After returning to Memphis with Thom, I was saddened to learn that Tennessee law does not live up to those ideals in the way it treats married same-sex couples." 3
Kellie Miller said:
"When we decided to move to Tennessee, I was excited to move back home and return to my former job. We did our best to prepare ourselves when we realized that Tennessee would not recognize our marriage, but we could have never anticipated all the negative ways it has affected us, from big things like not being considered each other’s next of kin for purposes of making medical decisions to small, but important things like not being able to change our driver’s licenses to reflect our married name. Every day, we are reminded that Tennessee does not value our commitment or our family.
We moved to Nashville when my employer decided to relocate me to Nashville. It has been painful to have the state where we live refuse to recognize our marriage. What has been more painful is seeing our kids trying to make sense of it all and never knowing whether our marriage will be respected as we go through our daily lives." 3
One of the plaintiffs' lawyers, Abby R. Rubenfeld, of Rubenfeld Law Office in Nashville said:
"These discriminatory laws are causing serious harms to families in our state. Every Tennessean who values family should care that their neighbors are being hurt by these laws." 2
He also said:
"Tennessee is the volunteer state—it is our tradition to honor and applaud those who voluntarily move here to enjoy the benefits of this great state—not deny them benefits and respect afforded them in other states. Tennessee traditionally values fairness and family. The time has come for Tennessee law to be true to those values by including same-sex couples who legally married before moving to Tennessee because this state is as much their home as it is ours. We believe that the United States Constitution requires that Tennessee law treat married same-sex couples like all other married couples. Today, we ask the courts to reaffirm that dignity and respect are core values in Tennessee and that our anti-marriage recognition laws conflict with those values." 3
Another lawyer, William Harbison, a partner at Sherrard & Roe in Nashville said:
"Every day that goes by, these couples and their families are being denied critically important protections that other married couples take for granted. These laws are out of step with the reality that more and more same-sex couples are legally married. They also violate the most basic requirements of equal protection and due process. We are asking the court to move quickly because these families need immediate relief."
Shannon Minter, NCLR legal director, said:
"Since these laws were enacted, more and more people in Tennessee and across the country have come to recognize that same-sex couples and their children deserve the same protections and respect as other families. These couples are married, and it serves no purpose for the law to ignore their marriages and treat them as legal strangers to one another. These laws are causing serious harm to families currently living in Tennessee, while helping no one." 3
Potential long-term implications of this lawsuit:
When the U.S. Supreme Court declared Section 3 of the federal Defense of Marriage Act to be unconstitutional, it left the Section 2 in place.
Section 2 states:
"No State, territory, or possession of the United States, or Indian tribe, shall be required to give effect to any public act, record, or judicial proceeding of any other State, territory, possession, or tribe respecting a relationship between persons of the same sex that is treated as a marriage under the laws of such other State, territory, possession, or tribe, or a right or claim arising from such relationship." 1
If this lawsuit were to be appealed to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit, and later to the U.S. Supreme Court, the latter court could conceivably declare Section 2 of the federal DOMA law to be unconstitutional. That could give a major boost towards marriage equality, because it might force states like Tennessee to recognize same-sex marriages solemnized out-of-state. This would allow loving, committed same-sex couples to visit another state, get legally married there, return to their state of residence and assert their right to have their marriage recognized.
Shannon Minter, Legal Director for the National Center for Lesbian Rights, which is helping litigate in this case, said:
"Married couples should be able to travel and to live in any state knowing that their family is protected. Tennessee’s current law hurts same-sex couples and their children without helping anyone." 1
According to NCLR:
The relief requested by the couples would take effect immediately and remain in effect as the case proceeds toward a final resolution. The couples argue that such an order is necessary because Tennessee’s refusal to respect their marriages deprives them of critical legal protections and benefits that they previously enjoyed, many of which are designed to protect couples in an emergency. 4
The following information sources were used to prepare and update the above
essay. The hyperlinks are not necessarily still active today.
- Steve Williams, "New Gay Marriage Lawsuit is Much Bigger than Tennessee," Care2, 2013-OCT-22, at: http://www.care2.com/
- "Married Same-Sex Couples in Tennessee Ask Court for Immediate Protection of Their Families," The Rainbow Times, 2013-NOV-20, at: http://www.therainbowtimesmass.com/
- "Same-Sex Couples File Marriage Recognition Lawsuit in Tennessee," Press Release, National Center for Lesbian Rights, 2013-OCT-21, at: http://www.nclrights.org/
- "Case summary and history: Tanco v. Haslam," National Center for Lesbian Rights, 2013-NOV, at: http://www.nclrights.org/
- Adam Polaski, "Why Raymie wants to call Matthew his husband in Tennessee," Freedom to Marry, 2013-FEB-13, at: http://www.freedomtomarry.org/
- "WE DO Campaign: Matt and Raymie," You Tube, videotaped on 2013-JAN-09, at: https://www.youtube.com/
Copyright © 2013 by Ontario Consultants on Religious
Originally written: 2003-NOV-20
Latest update: 2013-NOV-21
Author: B.A. Robinson