California couple become part of Tennessee same-sex marriage challenge

Matthew Mansell, left and Johno Espejo at their home in Placentia, Calif. The couple moved from the San Francisco Bay Area to Franklin, Tennessee, in 2012 for Mansell’s job as a conflicts analyst for an international law firm.

Matthew Mansell, left and Johno Espejo at their home in Placentia, Calif. The couple moved from the San Francisco Bay Area to Franklin, Tennessee, in 2012 for Mansell’s job as a conflicts analyst for an international law firm. Courtesy Matthew Mansell (AP)

Matthew Mansell, left and Johno Espejo at their home in Placentia, Calif. The couple moved from the San Francisco Bay Area to Franklin, Tennessee, in 2012 for Mansell’s job as a conflicts analyst for an international law firm. Courtesy Matthew Mansell (AP)

Matthew Mansell, left and Johno Espejo at their home in Placentia, Calif. The couple moved from the San Francisco Bay Area to Franklin, Tennessee, in 2012 for Mansell’s job as a conflicts analyst for an international law firm.

This article is one in a series showcasing the families who are plaintiffs in the marriage equality cases that will be heard by the U.S. Supreme Court on April 28. Read more here.


NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Johno Espejo and Matthew Mansell moved from the San Francisco Bay area to Franklin, Tennessee, in 2012 for Mansell’s job as a conflicts analyst for an international law firm. Their neighbors were friendly, Mansell says, but the family couldn’t go out in public without being stared at.

Mansell is white. Espejo is Filipino. Their two adopted children are Thai and African-American. Mansell’s mother also lived with them.

He recalls taking the family out to eat at a Nashville restaurant and seeing a little boy walk by their table, twice, “with his mouth hanging open.”

They’ve since moved back to California and are living in Orange County. But they remain part of a group of Supreme Court cases seeking recognition of same-sex marriage in Tennessee and three other states.

The couple met at San Francisco’s Embarcadero YMCA in 1995. “It would have been nice to say we met at the Museum of Modern Art discussing Picasso, but we didn’t,” Mansell said.

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They were married in 2008 at San Francisco City Hall while Mansell was on a lunch break. They already had adopted their children, a son now 8 and a daughter who’s 6. Espejo is a stay-at-home father.

Their lawsuit will be part of history, Espejo said.

“It’s kind of odd to think this ended up being in a case that our children may learn about in seventh and eighth grade,” he said. “It’s weird to think we’ll have our name associated with this when we’re just a married couple, going about our lives.”

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