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

Press Release

Marriage

U.S. Supreme Court Agrees to Hear Four Freedom to Marry Cases

(Washington, DC, January 16, 2015)—In a historic announcement, the United States Supreme Court today agreed to review a November 2014 federal appeals court decision that upheld marriage equality bans in Tennessee and three other states.

By deciding to hear the Tennessee, Kentucky, Michigan, and Ohio marriage equality cases, the Court has an opportunity to bring an end to the serious harms that destabilize the lives of same-sex couples in the small minority of states that continue to deny them the freedom to marry. The Court is expected to hear arguments this spring and issue a decision by the end of June 2015.

The Tennessee plaintiff 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. They are represented by Shannon Minter, Christopher F. Stoll, and David C. Codell of the National Center for Lesbian Rights (NCLR), Tennessee attorneys Abby Rubenfeld, Maureen Holland, and Regina Lambert, and the law firms of Sherrard & Roe PLC and Ropes & Gray LLP.

Today’s decision follows the couples’ request that the Supreme Court hear the case to ensure that the marriages of same-sex couples are treated equally across the country.

“This is an important day because it means that our family will finally have an opportunity to share our story with the Court and explain how this discriminatory law hurts us each day,” said Tanco, who has a young daughter with Jesty. “We live in fear for ourselves and our little girl because we don’t have the same legal protections in Tennessee as other families. We are hopeful the Supreme Court will resolve this issue so we no longer need to live in fear.”

Minter, who serves as NCLR legal director, said: “Currently, same-sex couples in many states face a constitutionally intolerable situation because their home states treat them as legal strangers. Even legally married couples can instantly lose the protections of marriage if they travel or move to a state that does not recognize their marriages. We hope the Supreme Court will finally bring an end to the harms that same-sex couples and their children face when they are treated unequally and excluded from marriage.”

In a 2-1 decision on Nov. 6, 2014, the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals upheld marriage bans in Tennessee, Kentucky, Michigan, and Ohio—creating a conflict with the four other federal appeals courts that have invalidated similar state marriage bans in recent months. The U.S. Supreme Court on October 6, 2014 declined to review federal appeals court decisions striking down marriage bans in Utah, Oklahoma, Virginia, Indiana, and Wisconsin. Since the Supreme Court denied review in those cases, same-sex couples can now marry in 36 states and the District of Columbia.

On Nov. 15, 2014, the Tennessee couples asked the U.S. Supreme Court to review their case, arguing: “Breaking with the otherwise uniform view of the courts of appeals, a divided panel of the Sixth Circuit upheld Tennessee’s Non-Recognition Laws. The court of appeals’ holding not only denies recognition to petitioners’ own marriages and families, but also establishes a “checkerboard” nation in which same-sex couples’ marriages are dissolved and reestablished as they travel across the country. That is the antithesis of the stability that marriage is supposed to afford.”

Learn more about the case.

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