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PlaintiffThomIjpeBy Ijpe DeKoe
Tennessee Marriage Case Plaintiff

Thom was my childhood sweetheart. We met in 1999 when we were in our late teens and working as camp counselors that summer.

We knew there was something special in one another and maintained a close friendship for a decade before finally admitting that we were perfect together.

In 2011, we got engaged. Soon after, we were married in New York—while I was on a three days pass from my mobilization training at FT. Dix, NJ. A week later I began my nine month deployment to Afghanistan. Upon returning, I was stationed in Memphis, this time with my new husband.

We are both in college—he is a full-time grad student and I’m earning a bachelor’s degree while working full time for the US Army Reserve as a Sergeant First Class managing training for two Civil Affairs Companies. No kids yet, but we’d love to be parents one day.

We have lived in Memphis for more than two years and love it here. We have a small, but great, circle of friends that support us. Some of them are married, but others are happily single.

But as a married couple ourselves, we are quite different from our other married friends in Tennessee. The reason is that our marriage doesn’t exist in this state because we’re both men.

The lack of recognition of our marriage puts the life that we are building together in peril. Here’s why: If I were to be in a serious accident and unable to make my own medical decisions, the hospital doesn’t have to recognize Thom as my next of kin. If we were to have children through adoption, the State of Tennessee would not recognize us both as parents. And if our parentage is not recognized by the state, medical facilities, day-cares, schools, or any other institutions in Tennessee have no legal obligation to recognize it either.

Both situations become more complex and dangerous if anything happens to me while being deployed again and Thom stays here taking care of our children.

These are just a couple of examples of the limbo Thom and I are placed in every single day—for no reason other than that we happen to be two men who are married to each other. There are countless other issues—personal finances, taxes, property—which we, as an unrecognized married couple, have no legal standing while living in Tennessee.

Some say we could move, but we like Tennessee. In addition, we can’t just move. I am proudly serving in the U.S. armed forces, and as such, my job tells us where to live and we are required to live there. What Thom and I want most in the world is to be recognized for what we are — an ordinary married couple making the best decisions we can for each other and for our future together.

Please know that we are not asking anyone to change their mind. We are both firm believers that everyone is entitled to their own opinions. I have put my life on the line so that all of us—including those who don’t agree with us—can enjoy the freedom to express themselves. What we don’t believe in is subjugating other fellow Americans because they don’t share our same values. Diversity and freedom of expression are what made the United States a great country.

Thom and I will be celebrating Christmas here in Memphis. It will be a time to reflect and count our blessings, and hope that next year will bring much needed security to our family and to all Tennessean families who, like us, remain in limbo.

In a historic announcement on January 16, 2015, the United States Supreme Court agreed to review marriage equality cases in Tennessee, Ohio, Michigan, and Kentucky.  The Court is expected to hear arguments this spring and issue a decision by the end of June 2015. Learn more about the Tennessee marriage case.

(Originally published in The Tennessean on Dec. 31, 2014)
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