Cases & Advocacy

Tanco v. Haslam

Status: Closed

Outcome: Victory

Location: Tennessee

In Historic Ruling, U.S. Supreme Court Affirms Marriage Equality Across the United States on June 26, 2015


On October 21, 2013, NCLR filed a lawsuit on behalf of three legally married same-sex couples, challenging Tennessee laws that prevented the state from respecting their marriages and treating them the same as all other legally married couples in Tennessee.

The Tennessee couples, who included a full-time Army reservist and two professors of veterinary medicine, all formerly lived and married in other states and later moved to Tennessee to pursue careers and make new homes for their families. Tennessee refused to respect the couples’ lawful marriages and treated them as strangers to each other.

The lawsuit challenged Tennessee’s laws prohibiting recognition of the couples’ marriages as a violation of multiple provisions of the federal constitution, including equal protection and due process and the constitutionally-protected right to travel between and move to other states.

To prevent the plaintiff couples from continuing to be harmed by Tennessee’s laws, a federal district court in Nashville, Tennessee ruled on March 14, 2014 that Tennessee officials must recognize the couples’ marriages while their lawsuit was pending. The state appealed that ruling.

On April 25, 2014, the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals ordered that the case be assigned to a panel of judges for decision as soon as possible and entered an order temporarily preventing enforcement of the district court’s order. The Sixth Circuit heard oral argument in the case on August 6, 2014. In a 2-1 decision, the Sixth Circuit ruled on November 6, 2014 that state bans on the freedom to marry for same-sex couples in four states‚–Tennessee, Kentucky, Michigan, and Ohio‚–did not violate the U.S. Constitution. Judge Martha Craig Daughtry dissented from the decision, which was authored by Judge Jeffrey Sutton. On November 14, 2014, the couples asked the United States Supreme Court to hear their case.

The United States Supreme Court heard oral argument in marriage equality cases from Tennessee, Ohio, Michigan, and Kentucky on April 28, 2015. On June 26, 2015‚–in a landmark ruling of 5-4‚–the Court affirmed marriage equality across the counry.

In addition to NCLR, the Tennessee couples were represented by Abby Rubenfeld, the law firm of Sherrard & Roe, the law firm of Ropes & Gray LLP, Regina Lambert, and Maureen Holland.