The National Center for Lesbian Rights (NCLR) today announced a federal lawsuit against the state of Tennessee, representing four couples who lived and married elsewhere, and who moved to Tennessee for careers and other purposes, only to find their marital status unrecognized in their new homes:
(Nashville, TN, October 21, 2013)—Today, four legally married same-sex couples who live in Tennessee filed a lawsuit in federal 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. Tennessee law currently prohibits recognition of their marriages and treats the couples as legal strangers.
The lawsuit argues that Tennessee’s laws prohibiting recognition of the couples’ marriages violates the federal Constitution’s guarantees of equal protection and due process and the constitutionally protected right to travel between and move to other states.
The couples 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. 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.
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.”
As cases like this proliferate around the nation, we are now moving at warp speed toward full equality for gay and lesbian couples. While states like Tennessee will likely fight tooth and nail to forestall the inevitable, we now have a strong track record of precedent to refer to, suggesting that states should think long and hard about whether this is the hill they want to die on, so to speak.
(Full disclosure: Sergeant DeKoe and Thom are two of my closest friends, so I’m personally thrilled to see this happening.)
image via David Badash