Marriage issue complicates immigration, motherhood for Tennessee couple

Sophy Jesty, left, and Val Tanco, right, with their dog, Biscuit, at their home in Knoxville, Tenn.

Sophy Jesty, left, and Val Tanco, right, with their dog, Biscuit, at their home in Knoxville, Tenn. Wade Payne, AP

Sophy Jesty, left, and Val Tanco, right, with their dog, Biscuit, at their home in Knoxville, Tenn. Wade Payne, AP

Sophy Jesty, left, and Val Tanco, right, with their dog, Biscuit, at their home in Knoxville, Tenn.

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. — When Valeria Tanco and Sophy Jesty began dating during post-graduate veterinary training at Cornell University, their relationship faced more than the usual run of hurdles.

Tanco is Argentinian, and once her residency ended, she wound up on the west coast of Canada, while Jesty remained on the east coast of the U.S.

Tanco proposed marriage when they met up in the mountains of Banff, Canada, during that separation. She’d arranged for a waiter to bring a ring on a dessert plate, but there was a long delay before he came to the table.

“I was so nervous she thought I was breaking up with her!” Tanco said.

The two wed legally in a courthouse ceremony in New York a year later. In the meantime, both had been offered jobs at the University of Tennessee College of Veterinary Medicine in Knoxville. Only after they got to Tennessee did the ramifications of living in a state that didn’t recognize their marriage become apparent.

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One fear was eased when, after the Supreme Court struck down part of the federal anti-gay marriage law, Tanco received a green card letting her stay in the United States as Jesty’s spouse.

But when Tanco became pregnant, the two worried about Jesty’s rights as a parent. Just before Tanco gave birth, a federal judge in Nashville ordered the state to recognize their marriage.

That recognition was later overturned, but not until after they had become the first same-sex couple in Tennessee to have their names listed together on a birth certificate.

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