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

Press Release

Marriage

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

(Washington, D.C., June 26, 2015)—In a historic decision, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that states laws that ban marriage for same-sex couples are unconstitutional. The decision overturns a November 2014 Sixth Circuit Court ruling that upheld marriage bans in Kentucky, Michigan, Ohio, and Tennessee.

The 5-4 ruling strikes down laws in 13 states and Puerto Rico and requires all 50 states to allow same-sex couples to marry.

The Tennessee plaintiffs are Dr. Valeria Tanco and Dr. Sophy Jesty; Army Reserve Sergeant First Class Ijpe DeKoe and Thom Kostura; and Matthew Mansell and Johno Espejo. They are represented by the National Center for Lesbian Rights (NCLR), Tennessee attorneys Abby Rubenfeld, Maureen Holland, and Regina Lambert, William Harbison and other attorneys from the Nashville law firm of Sherrard & Roe PLC, and Douglas Hallward-Driemeier and other attorneys from the law firm of Ropes & Gray LLP. Hallward-Driemeier and GLAD’s Mary Bonauto argued on behalf of the plaintiffs before the Court on April 28, 2015.

 “We are overjoyed and grateful to the Supreme Court for finally putting an end to these damaging laws that have hurt so many families in Tennessee and across the country,” said Tanco, who has a 1-year old daughter with Jesty. “We are grateful to every single member of our legal team, who have worked tirelessly to take down these discriminatory laws and finally bring the freedom to marry to the LGBT community. We would also like to thank our family, friends, and neighbors in Tennessee for all their support in this amazing and historic journey.”

Said NCLR Legal Director Shannon Minter, Esq.: “In resounding terms that will echo through history, our nation’s highest court has affirmed the common dignity and humanity of same-sex couples. For all people in this country, including millions of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender Americans, today is a day to celebrate. By recognizing that the U.S. Constitution guarantees all Americans the freedom to marry and form a family with the person with whom they have chosen to share their life, the Court has brought us one monumental step closer to a nation in which everyone can live openly and authentically, without fear, harassment, or discrimination. We are grateful to the courageous couples who brought their case before the Court, and to generations of LGBT activists, leaders, and community members who worked tirelessly for decades to make this day possible.”

Media Availability

To arrange interviews with the Tennessee plaintiffs or legal team members, contact NCLR Director of Communications Erik Olvera at 415.365.1324 (office), 415.994.3242 (cell) or at EOlvera@NCLRights.org


About the Couples

Dr. 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.

Ijpe 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.

About the Legal Team

Douglas Hallward-Driemeier, Esq.
Douglas Hallward-Driemeier leads Ropes & Gray’s Appellate and Supreme Court practice. He has presented more than 50 appellate arguments, including before the U.S. Supreme Court and every federal circuit court of appeals. He has briefed and argued both civil and criminal matters covering a wide range of subjects and has particular experience in the areas of intellectual property, bankruptcy, the False Claims Act, securities litigation, and antitrust. Between 2004 and 2009, he was an Assistant to the Solicitor General, where he briefed and argued cases on behalf of the United States before the Supreme Court. He has argued fifteen cases before the Supreme Court and filed more than 150 briefs in that Court. On April 28, he will argue before the Supreme Court in favor of marriage equality.

Abby Rubenfeld, Esq.
Abby Rubenfeld has a general law practice in Nashville with an emphasis on family law, sexual orientation and AIDS-related issues, and currently serves on the board of directors of the ACLU of Tennessee. She served on the board of directors of the Human Rights Campaign, a national civil rights organization and the largest lesbian and gay political organization in the world, for seven years. She also served for more than five years as Legal Director of Lambda Legal Defense and Education Fund, Inc., a national civil rights organization that conducts test case litigation across the country on behalf of lesbian and gay rights and AIDS issues.

Bill Harbison, Esq.
Bill Harbison, an attorney at Nashville-based Sherrard & Roe, works in the areas of corporate law and trusts and estates. He also handles litigation in those same practice categories. Harbison graduated cum laude from Harvard Law School and received his bachelor’s degree with highest honors in English from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. He is a member of Phi Beta Kappa.

NCLR Legal Team
NCLR has worked to achieve marriage equality for more than a decade and helped bring the freedom to marry to California in 2008. It has since won several marriage victories, including in Idaho, Florida, New Mexico, Utah, and Wyoming. Executive Director Kate Kendell, Legal Director Shannon Minter, and Senior Attorney Chris Stoll are available for interviews.

Learn more about the case.

(Washington, D.C., June 26, 2015)—In a historic decision, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that states laws that ban marriage for same-sex couples are unconstitutional. The decision overturns a November 2014 Sixth Circuit Court ruling that upheld marriage bans in Kentucky, Michigan, Ohio, and Tennessee.

The 5-4 ruling strikes down laws in 13 states and Puerto Rico and requires all 50 states to allow same-sex couples to marry.

The Tennessee plaintiffs are Dr. Valeria Tanco and Dr. Sophy Jesty; Army Reserve Sergeant First Class Ijpe DeKoe and Thom Kostura; and Matthew Mansell and Johno Espejo. They are represented by the National Center for Lesbian Rights (NCLR), Tennessee attorneys Abby Rubenfeld, Maureen Holland, and Regina Lambert, William Harbison and other attorneys from the Nashville law firm of Sherrard & Roe PLC, and Douglas Hallward-Driemeier and other attorneys from the law firm of Ropes & Gray LLP. Hallward-Driemeier and GLAD’s Mary Bonauto argued on behalf of the plaintiffs before the Court on April 28, 2015.

 “We are overjoyed and grateful to the Supreme Court for finally putting an end to these damaging laws that have hurt so many families in Tennessee and across the country,” said Tanco, who has a 1-year old daughter with Jesty. “We are grateful to every single member of our legal team, who have worked tirelessly to take down these discriminatory laws and finally bring the freedom to marry to the LGBT community. We would also like to thank our family, friends, and neighbors in Tennessee for all their support in this amazing and historic journey.”

Said NCLR Legal Director Shannon Minter, Esq.: “In resounding terms that will echo through history, our nation’s highest court has affirmed the common dignity and humanity of same-sex couples. For all people in this country, including millions of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender Americans, today is a day to celebrate. By recognizing that the U.S. Constitution guarantees all Americans the freedom to marry and form a family with the person with whom they have chosen to share their life, the Court has brought us one monumental step closer to a nation in which everyone can live openly and authentically, without fear, harassment, or discrimination. We are grateful to the courageous couples who brought their case before the Court, and to generations of LGBT activists, leaders, and community members who worked tirelessly for decades to make this day possible.”

Media Availability

To arrange interviews with the Tennessee plaintiffs or legal team members, contact NCLR Director of Communications Erik Olvera at 415.365.1324 (office), 415.994.3242 (cell) or at EOlvera@NCLRights.org


About the Couples

Dr. 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.

Ijpe 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.

About the Legal Team

Douglas Hallward-Driemeier, Esq.
Douglas Hallward-Driemeier leads Ropes & Gray’s Appellate and Supreme Court practice. He has presented more than 50 appellate arguments, including before the U.S. Supreme Court and every federal circuit court of appeals. He has briefed and argued both civil and criminal matters covering a wide range of subjects and has particular experience in the areas of intellectual property, bankruptcy, the False Claims Act, securities litigation, and antitrust. Between 2004 and 2009, he was an Assistant to the Solicitor General, where he briefed and argued cases on behalf of the United States before the Supreme Court. He has argued fifteen cases before the Supreme Court and filed more than 150 briefs in that Court. On April 28, he will argue before the Supreme Court in favor of marriage equality.

Abby Rubenfeld, Esq.
Abby Rubenfeld has a general law practice in Nashville with an emphasis on family law, sexual orientation and AIDS-related issues, and currently serves on the board of directors of the ACLU of Tennessee. She served on the board of directors of the Human Rights Campaign, a national civil rights organization and the largest lesbian and gay political organization in the world, for seven years. She also served for more than five years as Legal Director of Lambda Legal Defense and Education Fund, Inc., a national civil rights organization that conducts test case litigation across the country on behalf of lesbian and gay rights and AIDS issues.

Bill Harbison, Esq.
Bill Harbison, an attorney at Nashville-based Sherrard & Roe, works in the areas of corporate law and trusts and estates. He also handles litigation in those same practice categories. Harbison graduated cum laude from Harvard Law School and received his bachelor’s degree with highest honors in English from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. He is a member of Phi Beta Kappa.

NCLR Legal Team
NCLR has worked to achieve marriage equality for more than a decade and helped bring the freedom to marry to California in 2008. It has since won several marriage victories, including in Idaho, Florida, New Mexico, Utah, and Wyoming. Executive Director Kate Kendell, Legal Director Shannon Minter, and Senior Attorney Chris Stoll are available for interviews.

Learn more about the case.

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