Tennessee Couples Appeal 6th Circuit Decision to the SCOTUS

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Matthew Mansell and Johno Espejo

(Nashville, TN, Nov. 14, 2014)—Today, just a little over a year since they first filed their federal lawsuit challenging Tennessee's same-sex marriage ban, the three couples asked the U.S. Supreme Court to hear their case after the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that state marriage bans do not violate the U.S. Constitution.

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 the four other federal appeals courts that have invalidated similar state marriage bans in recent months, and within 24 hours of the ruling the couples had decided to press forward with their case.  

In their request to the U.S. Supreme court, the three Tennessee couples argue: “Breaking with the otherwise uniform view of the courts of appeals, a divided panel of the Sixth Circuit upheld Tennessee’s Non-Recognition Laws. The 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.”  

Val and Sophy 02.jpgThe couples, who were featured in O&AN's June issue, are Dr. Valeria Tanco and Dr. Sophy Jesty (photo left) of Knoxville; Army Reserve Sergeant First Class Ijpe DeKoe and Thom Kostura (photo below) of Memphis; and Matthew Mansell and Johno Espejo (photo above) of Franklin. The couples are represented by the National Center for Lesbian Rights (NCLR), attorneys Abby Rubenfeld, Maureen Holland, and Regina Lambert, and the law firms of Sherrard & Roe PLC and Ropes & Gray LLP.

Said Jesty: “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 fear. Every day we’re denied marriage equality in our state is another day that our family’s wellbeing is jeopardized.”

Ijpe deKoe and Thom Kostura 02.jpg

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.”

Read the request and learn more about the case.