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Press Release

Marriage

Sixth Circuit Hears Tennessee Marriage Equality Case

(Cincinnati, Ohio, Aug. 6, 2014)—Today, the United States Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit heard oral argument in Tennessee’s marriage equality case, Tanco v. Haslam.

Attorney William Harbison argued on behalf of the three plaintiff couples that Tennessee’s failure to recognize the marriages of same-sex couples violates the federal Constitution’s guarantees of equal protection and due process, as well as the right to travel between and move to other states.

The plaintiffs filed their legal challenge in October 2013 to 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 are Dr. Valeria Tanco and Dr. Sophy Jesty of Knoxville; Army Reserve Sergeant First Class Ijpe DeKoe and Thom Kostura of Memphis; and Matthew Mansell and Johno Espejo of Franklin.

A federal district court in Nashville ruled in March that Tennessee officials must recognize the marriages of the plaintiff couples who moved to Tennessee after legally marrying in other states. The ruling provided immediate protection for the three plaintiff couples while their case proceeds.

The oral argument was among six heard today by Judges Martha Craig Daughtrey, Jeffrey S. Sutton, and Deborah L. Cook—the most marriage cases that any federal circuit court has ever heard in a single day since the United States Supreme Court’s decision last summer striking down the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA).

In addition to Harbison, the couples are represented by attorneys Abby R. Rubenfeld of Nashville, 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).

Said Jesty: “Val and I are moved by the seriousness with which the courts are taking our request that we be treated fairly as a family. We have received so much support from our family, friends, and neighbors in Tennessee, and we are hopeful that our state officials will soon offer us the same respect.”

Said Rubenfeld: “These couples are responsible, contributing members of their communities who deserve the same dignity and security as other families. Same-sex couples and their children are a vital part of this state, and they want nothing more, and nothing less, than to be treated as equal citizens. Every court to rule since the Supreme Court’s decision in United States v. Windsor has held that laws barring same- sex couples from marriage are unconstitutional, and we hope the Sixth Circuit will soon do so as well.”

Said NCLR Legal Director Shannon Minter: “We are grateful that the Sixth Circuit has moved quickly in handling this case, which affects thousands of families who seek equal dignity and full legal recognition of their families. Every passing day inflicts real hardships on couples and their children who are denied legal protection and the dignity that marriage equality provides their families.”

Learn more about the case.

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