Couples File Marriage Equality Lawsuit in Tenn.

by Jason St. Amand

National News Editor

Monday October 21, 2013

Four same-sex couples have filed a lawsuit that challenges Tennessee's law that defines marriage as between one man and one woman, according to a new press release from the National Center for Lesbian Rights.

The lawsuit was filed in federal district court in Nashville by four couples, including full-time Army reservist Sergeant First Class Ijpe DeKoe and his husband Thom Kostura; two professors of veterinary medicine Dr. Valeria Tanco and Dr. Sophy Jesty; Kellie Miller and Vanessa DeVillez; and Matthew Mansell and Johno Espejo. The couples lived in and married in other states and later moved to Tennessee.

"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 press release reads.

Nashville attorneys Abby R. Rubbenfeld, William Harbison, Scott Hickman, Phil Cramer and John Farringer from the Sherrard & Roe law firm, the National Center for Lesbian Rights, and attorney Maureen T. Holland and Regina Lambert, represent the four couples.

"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. "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."

Sergeant DeKoe, who toured in Afghanistan, echoed Dr. Jesty's statements.

"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," he said.

The other couples also offered the views on the issue, like Miller, who said, without marriage equality, "Tennessee does not value our commitment or our family."

"Tennessee is the volunteer state-it is our tradition to honor and applaud those who voluntarily move here to enjoy the benefits of this great state-not deny them benefits and respect afforded them in other states," attorney Rubenfeld said in the press release.

"Tennessee traditionally values fairness and family. 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. We believe that the United States Constitution requires that Tennessee law treats married same-sex couples like all other married couples. Today, we ask the courts to reaffirm that dignity and respect are core values in Tennessee and that our anti-marriage recognition laws conflict with those values."

According to Freedom to Marry, there are 19 other states with lawsuits challenging states' gay marriage bans, including Arkansas, Hawaii, Illinois, Kentucky, Louisiana, Michigan, Mississippi, Nevada, New Mexico, North Carolina, Ohio, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, Texas, Utah, Virginia and West Virginia.

Last week, two same-sex couples filed a suit in Oregon, also challenging the state's ban on marriage equality.