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Same-sex couples file federal lawsuit in Tenn. seeking marriage recognition

Monday, October 21, 2013
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NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Four legally married same-sex couples on Monday filed a lawsuit in U.S. District Court in Nashville, challenging Tennessee laws that prevent the state from recognizing their marriages and treating them the same as all other legally married couples in Tennessee.

The couples, who include a full-time Army reservist and his husband and two professors of veterinary medicine, all formerly lived and married in other states and later moved to Tennessee to pursue careers and make new homes for their families.

TennesseeThe lawsuit argues that Tennessee’s laws prohibiting recognition of the couples’ marriages violates the U.S. Constitution’s guarantee of equal protection and due process and the constitutionally protected right to travel between and move to other states.

The plaintiffs are Dr. Valeria Tanco and Dr. Sophy Jesty of Knoxville; Army Reserve Sergeant First Class Ijpe DeKoe and Thom Kostura of Memphis; Kellie Miller and Vanessa DeVillez of Greenbrier; and Matthew Mansell and Johno Espejo of Franklin.

“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,” said Dr. Jesty, who moved to Tennessee with her wife in 2011 to accept a teaching position at the University of Tennessee College of Veterinary Medicine in Knoxville, where her spouse also teaches.

“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,” she said.

Sergeant DeKoe, who served a tour of duty in Afghanistan, 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.”

The couples are represented by Nashville attorneys Abby R. Rubenfeld, William Harbison, Scott Hickman, Phil Cramer and John Farringer of the law firm of Sherrard & Roe, the National Center for Lesbian Rights (NCLR), and attorneys Maureen T. Holland of Memphis and Regina Lambert of Knoxville.

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“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,” said Rubenfeld, in a statement. “We believe that the United States Constitution requires that Tennessee law treat married same-sex couples like all other married couples.”

“Tennessee recognizes the marriages and families of all other couples that were married out-of-state,” added Harbison. “It is wrong and unfair for Tennessee law to single out these legally married couples and treat them as legal strangers to one another simply because of who they are.”

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