Earlier this week, marriage equality was extended to New Jersey, and perhaps next on the equality menu: Tennessee?
Four couples who were legally married in other states before moving to Tennessee have filed a lawsuit challenging the nonrecognition of their marriage due to Tennessee state law. The (extremely long) complaint can be found here, but essentially the argument is that Tennessee’s laws prohibiting recognition of the couples’ marriages violates the U.S. Constitution’s guarantee of equal protection and due process and the constitutionally protected right to travel between and move to other states.
As we all know, the Defense of Marriage Act was struck down last June, thanks in no small part to the efforts of one awesome lady, but state bans on same-sex marriage weren’t addressed. After that ruling, gay couples who were legally married in states that allow it can now get the same federal benefits as heterosexual couples, but in Tennessee gay marriage is prohibited both by state law as well as a constitutional “one man one woman” marriage amendment passed in 2006.
Lesbian plantiffs Sophy Jesty and Valeria Tanco, who married in New York in 2011 then relocated to teach at the University of Tennessee Knoxville, have a special reason for the lawsuit: Tanco is 18 weeks pregnant. Under the current law in Tennessee, Jesty wouldn’t be recognized as the child’s legal parent.
“Val will have a legal parental status based on the fact that she’s the one that’s carrying our baby, but I will not,” Jesty said. “It’s a very frightening thing … to lose your legal rights as a parent.”
Sergeant First Class Ijpe DeKoe, who served a tour of duty in Afghanistan, was equally committed to the fight. “Fairness and equality are the guiding principles of our government, and as a member of the armed forces, I have fought and will continue to fight for those principles,” he said. “After returning to Memphis with Thom, I was saddened to learn that Tennessee law does not live up to those ideals in the way it treats married same-sex couples.”
Surprisingly enough, Tennessee seems to be something of a lightning rod for the marriage equality issue. Tennessee Equality Project executive director Chris Sanders says that he is contacted weekly by gay couples seeking legal recognition. “We believe it’s the first step in knocking down a huge barrier of discrimination in the state.”
Tennessee gays, start trimming down for that wedding day now, it may be coming sooner than you think!