Achieving LGBTQ Equality Through Litigation, Legislation, Policy, and Public Education

Case Summary & History


Case: Tanco v. Haslam


In Historic Ruling, U.S. Supreme Court Affirms Marriage Equality Across the United States on June 26, 2015



On October 21, 2013, NCLR filed a lawsuit on behalf of three legally married same-sex couples, challenging Tennessee laws that prevent the state from respecting their marriages and treating them the same as all other legally married couples in Tennessee.

The Tennessee couples, who include a full-time Army reservist 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 does not respect the couples’ lawful marriages and treats them as strangers to each other.

The lawsuit challenges Tennessee’s laws prohibiting recognition of the couples’ marriages as a violation of multiple provisions of the federal constitution, including equal protection and due process and the constitutionally-protected right to travel between and move to other states.

To prevent the plaintiff couples from continuing to be harmed by Tennessee’s laws, a federal district court in Nashville, Tennessee ruled on March 14, 2014 that Tennessee officials must recognize the couples’ marriages while their lawsuit is pending. The state appealed that ruling.

On April 25, 2014, the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals ordered that the case be assigned to a panel of judges for decision as soon as possible and entered an order temporarily preventing enforcement of the district court’s order. The Sixth Circuit heard oral argument in the case on Aug. 6, 2014. In a 2-1 decision, the Sixth Circuit ruled on Nov. 6, 2014 that state bans on the freedom to marry for same-sex couples in four states—Tennessee, Kentucky, Michigan, and Ohio—do not violate the U.S. Constitution. Judge Martha Craig Daughtry dissented from the decision, which was authored by Judge Jeffrey Sutton. On November 14, 2014, the couples asked the United States Supreme Court to hear their case.

The United States Supreme Court heard oral argument in marriage equality cases from Tennessee, Ohio, Michigan, and Kentucky on April 28, 2015. On June 26, 2015—in a landmark ruling of 5-4—the Court affirmed marriage equality across the counry.

In addition to NCLR, the Tennessee couples are represented by Abby Rubenfeld, the law firm of Sherrard & Roe, the law firm of Ropes & Gray LLP, Regina Lambert, and Maureen Holland.

Learn About the Couples

TN_TancoJestyDr. Valeria Tanco & Dr. Sophy Jesty

Dr. Valeria Tanco and Dr. Sophy Jesty met while at the College of Veterinary Medicine at Cornell University in Ithaca, New York, and have been together for four years. As Sophy neared the end of her post-graduate fellowship, Val and Sophy began looking for teaching positions in veterinary medicine that were geographically close to another. The University of Tennessee, Knoxville offered them both positions in their respective specialties. Although the couple had married while living in New York, the State of Tennessee treats them as if they are two unmarried women. In March 2014, Val gave birth to the couple’s first child.


PlaintiffThomIjpeIjpe DeKoe & Thom Kostura

Ijpe DeKoe and Thom Kostura have known each other since they were teenagers. Ijpe is a Sergeant in the Army Reserves.  The couple got married on August 5, 2011, a week before Ijpe began a tour of duty in Afghanistan. In May 2012, Ijpe returned home safely and immediately moved with Thom to Memphis, Tennessee, where he had been stationed prior to his deployment.



Matthew Mansell & Johno Espejo

Matthew Mansell and Johno Espejo met in 1995 and were married in California in 2008. Matthew is a conflicts analyst at a law firm, and Johno is a stay-at-home dad and works part-time at the local YMCA. The couples moved to Franklin, Tennessee in 2012 with their two children, who now are 8 and 6 years old.






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