Knoxville legally married same sex couple challenges Tenn. laws

Knoxville legally married same sex couple, others challenge Tenn. laws

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Four legally married same-sex couples who live in Tennessee filed a lawsuit in federal district court in Nashville challenging state laws preventing the state from recognizing their marriages. Four legally married same-sex couples who live in Tennessee filed a lawsuit in federal district court in Nashville challenging state laws preventing the state from recognizing their marriages.

By MONA NAIR
6 News Reporter

KNOXVILLE (WATE) - Four legally married same-sex couples who live in Tennessee filed a lawsuit in federal district court in Nashville challenging state laws preventing the state from recognizing their marriages.

One of the couples, Dr. Valeria Tanco and Dr. Sophy Jesty, is from Knoxville. The other couples are Army Reserve Sergeant First Class Ijpe DeKoe and Thom Kostura of Memphis; Kellie Miller, and Vanessa DeVillez of Greenbrier, and Matthew Mansell and Johno Espejo of Franklin.

The couples all formerly lived and married in other states and later moved to Tennessee to pursue careers and make new homes for their families.

Dr. Valeria Tanco and Dr. Sophy Jesty met in 2009, and say it was love at first sight.

"I literally physically ran into her in an elevator. I think that's when she noticed me. We went out for drinks that night and started dating a few months afterwards," Dr. Tanco said, explaining their love story.

In 2011, they got married in Brooklyn, New York, and say they were lucky to both land jobs at the University of Tennessee, shortly after.

"The huge majority of people are incredibly supportive of us," said Dr. Jesty, about how they've been received socially in Tennessee.

But everything changed when they found out they were pregnant. Valeria is 18 weeks along with a baby girl they plan to name Emilia.

"The fact that our marriage is not recognized in the state of Tennessee really hit home at that moment. Because to me not being recognized as a legal parent to our child is a real issue," Dr. Jesty explained.

That's what prompted the couple to become a part of the lawsuit. As future parents, they worry about several legal issues, like a family health insurance plan for example.

"If anything were to happen  where I need to stop working, then my insurance would be cut off," Dr. Tanco said, about her fears after she delivers.

"You can't legislate gay families out of existence. We're here regardless of what the law says," Dr. Jesty said.

To them, it's about the law, and their responsibility to a new life.

"The day our daughter comes to us and says ‘mommies, are you married?', and we have to give a different answer than maybe someone else," Dr. Tanco said.

According to a press release from the National Center for Lesbian Rights, the lawsuit argues that Tennessee's laws prohibiting recognition of the couples' marriage violates the federal Constitution's guarantees of equal protection and due process and the constitutionally protected right to travel between and move to other states.

The couples are represented by Nashville attorneys Abby R. Rubenfeld, William Harbison, Scott Hickman, Phil Cramer and John Farringer of the law firm of Sherrard & Roe, the National Center for Lesbian Rights (NCLR), and attorneys Maureen T. Holland of Memphis and Regina Lambert of Knoxville.

"Tennessee is the volunteer state—it is our tradition to honor and applaud those who voluntarily move here to enjoy the benefits of this great state—not deny them benefits and respect afforded them in other states. Tennessee traditionally values fairness and family. The time has come for Tennessee law to be true to those values by including same-sex couples who legally married before moving to Tennessee because this state is as much their home as it is ours. We believe that the United States Constitution requires that Tennessee law treat married same-sex couples like all other married couples. Today, we ask the courts to reaffirm that dignity and respect are core values in Tennessee and that our anti-marriage recognition laws conflict with those values," said attorney Rubenfeld.

 


 

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