Married Same-Sex Couples in Tennessee Ask Court for Immediate Protection of Their Families

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This week, four legally married same-sex couples who recently filed a federal lawsuit challenging Tennessee’s refusal to respect their marriages asked the court for immediate protection of their families while the lawsuit proceeds. 

The relief requested by the couples would take effect immediately and remain in effect as the case proceeds toward a final resolution. The couples are Dr. Valeria Tanco and Dr. Sophy Jesty (above); 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 argue that such an order is necessary because Tennessee’s refusal to respect their marriages is putting their families at risk of serious harms. For example, Dr. Tanco and Dr. Jesty are expecting a child in the spring and want to ensure that both parents will be respected and can make decisions and protect and care for their child.

On October 21, 2013, the couples filed a federal lawsuit arguing that Tennessee’s laws prohibiting recognition of the couples’ marriages violate 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 represented by attorneys Abby R. Rubenfeld of Nashville, William Harbison, Scott Hickman, Phil Cramer and John Farringer of the law firm of Sherrard & Roe in Nashville, Maureen T. Holland of Memphis, Regina Lambert of Knoxville, and the National Center for Lesbian Rights (NCLR).

"We filed today's motion because we want to protect our family,” said Dr. Jesty. "We are expecting a child in a few months, and it is extremely distressing that the law makes it impossible for us both to be recognized as legal parents. We urgently need the same protections as other married couples so that we can give our child the stability and protection she deserves.” 

“These discriminatory laws are causing serious harms to families in our state,” said Rubenfeld of Rubenfeld Law Office, PC. “Every Tennessean who values family should care that their neighbors are being hurt by these laws.”

“Every day that goes by, these couples and their families are being denied critically important protections that other married couples take for granted,” said Harbison, a partner at Sherrard & Roe. “These laws are out of step with the reality that more and more same-sex couples are legally married. They also violate the most basic requirements of equal protection and due process. We are asking the court to move quickly because these families need immediate relief.”

“Since these laws were enacted, more and more people in Tennessee and across the country have come to recognize that same-sex couples and their children deserve the same protections and respect as other families,” said Shannon Minter, NCLR legal director. “These couples are married, and it serves no purpose for the law to ignore their marriages and treat them as legal strangers to one another. These laws are causing serious harm to families currently living in Tennessee, while helping no one.”