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

Case Summary & History

Family & Relationships

Tanco v. Haslam

STATUS: Pending, Tennessee

On October 21, 2013, NCLR filed a lawsuit on behalf of four 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 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. In addition to NCLR, the couples are represented by Abby Rubenfeld, the law firm of Sherrard & Roe, Maureen Holland, and Regina Lambert.

TN_TancoJestyThe plaintiffs’ stories show why married same-sex couples deserve the security of knowing that their marriage will be respected if they move to another state. 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. Val is pregnant with their first child and is due in March 2014. Because Tennessee refuses to recognize their marriage, Sophy will not automatically be considered one of the child’s legal parents as any opposite-sex spouse would be. They want Tennessee to recognize their marriage to obtain important legal protections for themselves and their child.

Ijpe DeKoe and Thom Kostura have known each other since they were teenagers and have been together for about three years. 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. Despite Ijpe’s honorable service to protect all the freedoms Americans hold dear, Tennessee is unwilling to recognize his marriage to Thom. The Army Reserves fully respect Thom and Ijpe’s marriage, but the moment they leave the base, Tennessee denies Ijpe and Thom the dignity and respect that Ijpe risked his life to preserve.

TN_EspejoMansellMatthew 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 5 and 6 years old.

On November 18, 2013, the couples filed a motion asking the court to issue an order requiring the State of Tennessee to treat their marriages the same as other couples’ marriages while the lawsuit is pending. The relief requested by the couples would take effect immediately and remain in effect as the case proceeds toward a final resolution. The couples argue that such an order is necessary because Tennessee’s refusal to respect their marriages deprives them of critical legal protections and benefits that they previously enjoyed, many of which are designed to protect couples in an emergency. For example, Val and Sophy, who are expecting a child in the spring, wish for the court to ensure that both parents will be authorized to make decisions regarding their child and to protect and care for her.

On March 14, 2014, the couples’ motion was granted while their lawsuit continues.


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