Plaintiffs in Tennessee marriage case appeal ruling to U.S. Supreme Court

Dr. Sophy Jesty and Dr. Valeria Tanco, of Knoxville, Tenn. (left) are plaintiffs in the federal challenge to Tennessee's same-sex marriage ban. Staff Reports

NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Three same-sex couples challenging Tennessee’s ban on same-sex marriage and refusal to recognize their out-of-state marriages, asked the U.S. Supreme Court on Friday to hear their case after the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that state marriage bans do not violate the U.S. Constitution.

Dr. Sophy Jesty and Dr. Valeria Tanco, of Knoxville, Tenn. (left) are plaintiffs in the federal challenge to Tennessee's same-sex marriage ban.

Dr. Sophy Jesty and Dr. Valeria Tanco, of Knoxville, Tenn. (left) are plaintiffs in the federal challenge to Tennessee’s same-sex marriage ban.

In a 2-1 decision on Nov. 6, 2014, the Sixth Circuit upheld marriage bans in Tennessee and three other states — the first time a federal appeals court has ruled against the freedom to marry.

That decision created a conflict with federal appeals courts in the Fourth, Seventh, Ninth and Tenth Circuit that have invalidated similar state marriage bans in recent months.

“The (6th Circuit) court of appeals’ holding not only denies recognition to petitioners’ own marriages and families, but also establishes a ‘checkerboard’ nation in which same-sex couples’ marriages are dissolved and reestablished as they travel across the country. That is the antithesis of the stability that marriage is supposed to afford,” said the National Center for Lesbian Rights (NCLR), in its petition filed on behalf of the plaintiffs.

The plaintiff couples are Dr. Valeria Tanco and Dr. Sophy Jesty of Knoxville; Army Reserve Sergeant First Class Ijpe DeKoe and Thom Kostura of Memphis; and Matthew Mansell and Johno Espejo of Franklin.

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“We live in fear for ourselves and our little girl because we don’t have the same legal protections in Tennessee as other families and we’re hopeful that the United States Supreme Court will resolve this issue so we no longer need to live in fea,” said Jesty, in a statement. “Every day we’re denied marriage equality in our state is another day that our family’s wellbeing is jeopardized.”

Added DeKoe: “I serve this country every day so every single person can enjoy the freedoms of justice and liberty, yet Thom and I are treated unequally in Tennessee where I’m based. Like all other couples, we want to be able to protect one another, but Tennessee’s marriage ban makes it impossible for us to be a legally recognized family. Until we are fully respected, we will never have the freedom and security that I have spent my entire military career defending.”

Also Friday, plaintiffs in the Ohio case also appealed the 6th Circuit ruling to the Supreme Court. Michigan and Kentucky plaintiffs are expected to file appeals as well.

The Tennessee petition is here.

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