Tennessee Couples Ask SCOTUS to Stop the ‘Checkerboard Nation’

Tennessee Couples Ask SCOTUS to Stop the ‘Checkerboard Nation’

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Plaintiffs Matthew Mansell & Johno Espejo; Dr. Valeria Tanco & Dr. Sophy Jesty; and Ijpe DeKoe & Thom Kostura
Plaintiffs Matthew Mansell & Johno Espejo; Dr. Valeria Tanco & Dr. Sophy Jesty; and Ijpe DeKoe & Thom Kostura

Three couples challenging Tennessee’s marriage ban filed a brief in the Supreme Court of the United States Friday, asking the Court to rule that same-sex couples have the freedom to marry and thereby put an end to “a checkerboard nation in which same-sex couples’ marriages are dissolved and re-established as they travel or move from state to state.” The couples’ brief argues that the Supreme Court “should not permit any state to deprive another generation of lesbian and gay persons of the opportunity to participate fully in marriage.”

The Court will have 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 when it hears oral argument in the case, as well as cases from Kentucky, Michigan and Ohio, later this spring. The Court is expected to issue its decision by the end of June 2015.

The Tennessee plaintiff couples are Dr. Valeria Tanco and Dr. Sophy Jesty; Army Reserve Sergeant First Class Ijpe DeKoe and Thom Kostura; and Matthew Mansell and Johno Espejo. Each couple legally married in another state before moving to Tennessee, which refused to respect their marriages. They are represented by Shannon Price 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, William L. Harbison and other attorneys at the Nashville law firm of Sherrard & Roe PLC, and Douglass Hallward-Dreimeier and other attorneys at Ropes & Gray LLP.

“We’re hopeful the Court will recognize that our family is just like other families in Tennessee,” said Tanco, who has an 11-month-old daughter with Jesty. “Even though we were married when we moved to Tennessee, Tennessee doesn’t see us as a family or give us any of the legal protections that other married couples have.  We are grateful to have this chance to explain to the Court why this discrimination hurts us and our daughter.”

Minter, who serves as NCLR’s 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.”

On October 6, 2014, the U.S. Supreme Court declined to review federal appeals court decisions striking down marriage bans in Utah, Oklahoma, Virginia, Indiana, and Wisconsin, allowing marriage equality to begin in those states. Same-sex couples can now marry in 37 states and the District of Columbia.

The Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals on November 6, 2014 created a conflict with the other federal appeals court decisions when it upheld laws banning marriage equality in Tennessee, Kentucky, Michigan and Ohio. Plaintiffs in those cases asked the Supreme Court to review their cases, which the Court agreed to do.

Download the brief.
Learn more about the case.

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