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Family & Relationships

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

(Nashville, TN, November 19, 2013)—Today, four legally married same-sex couples who recently filed a federal lawsuit challenging Tennessee’srefusal 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; Army Reserve Sergeant First Class Ijpe DeKoe and Thom Kostura of Memphis; Kellie and Vanessa Miller-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.”

More About the Plaintiffs

Dr. Valeria Tanco and Dr. Sophy Jesty
Dr. Valeria Tanco and Dr. Sophy Jesty met in 2009 and were married in New York in 2011. Valeria is an Assistant Clinical Professor of Veterinary Medicine at the University of Tennessee College of Veterinary Medicine and Sophy is an Assistant Professor of Veterinary Medicine, also at the University of Tennessee College of Veterinary Medicine. The couple moved to Knoxville, Tennessee in 2011. They are expecting their first child in spring 2014.

Ijpe DeKoe and Thomas Kostura
Sergeant Ijpe DeKoe and Thomas Kostura met when they were teenagers and later started dating. They married in New York in 2011. Ijpe is a Sergeant First Class and full-time reservist in the Army Reserves, and served in Afghanistan. Thom is a student in the Memphis College of Arts’ master of fine arts program. The couple moved to Memphis, Tennessee in 2013.

Kellie and Vanessa Miller-DeVillez
Kellie and Vanessa Miller-DeVillez met in 2003 and were married in New York in 2011. Kellie is a legal assistant at a law firm, and Vanessa is an energy manager. The couple moved to Greenbrier, Tennessee in 2013.

Matthew Mansell and 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 couple moved to Franklin, Tennessee in 2012 with their two children, who now are 5 and 6 years old.

Read the motion for preliminary injunction and learn more about the case.

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