Four Couples File Suit Challenging Tennessee’s Gay Marriage Ban

Four gay couples filed suit in Tennessee today challenging the state's ban on same-sex marriage, according to a press release from the National Center for Lesbian Rights:

TennesseeThe couples, who include a full-time Army reservist and his husband 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 law currently prohibits recognition of their marriages and treats the couples as legal strangers.

The lawsuit argues that Tennessee’s laws prohibiting recognition of the couples’ marriages 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 Dr. Valeria Tanco and Dr. Sophy Jesty of Knoxville; 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 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.

Minter“Getting married not only enabled us to express our love and commitment to one another, but it also provided us with the protections we would need as we started our new lives together,” said Dr. Jesty, who moved to Tennessee with her wife in 2011 to accept a teaching position at the University of Tennessee College of Veterinary Medicine in Knoxville, where her spouse also teaches. “When we moved to Tennessee, we lost those protections. Now that Val is pregnant with our first child, having those protections is more important than ever.”

Sergeant DeKoe, who served a tour of duty in Afghanistan, said: “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. 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.”

Said NCLR legal director Shannon Minter (pictured): “Married couples should be able to travel and to live in any state knowing that their family is protected. Tennessee’s current law hurts same-sex couples and their children without helping anyone.”

Read the complaint HERE.


  1. says

    I presume they are saying that married couples should be able to bring their married status with them “to any state”…..and by that they mean ANY state…..not just the states which are part of the Union.

    This would support what I’ve been preaching for years; that the Private International Law of the USA requires the recognition of foreign marriages.
    “Private International Law” is a separate body of laws applied by all countries to resolve disputes with an international element.

    Once the parties had capacity to marry by the law of their domiciles and abided by the formalities of the place of performance then the USA MUST recognize such marriages under International Law.

  2. MiddleoftheRoader says

    Interestingly, the strongest argument may be the “right to travel”. There are Supreme Court cases that say if a state adopts certain laws that seriously interfere with a person’s “right to travel”, then such laws may be unconstitutional as a violation of the Privileges and Immunities Clause (which is completely different from the Due Process Clause, the Equal Protection Clause, or the Ninth Amendment “right to privacy”).

    It’s hard to imagine a state law that more seriously interferes with the constitutional “right to travel” than a state law that says a married couple (especially with children)is no longer considered married AND HAS NONE OF THE RIGHTS ASSOCIATED WITH MARRIAGE (such as each spouse being the parent of any children) if that married couples travels across state lines.

    That’s why these cases are the strongest: where spouses who move from their prior state of domicile where they were legally married into another state which says they are no longer married for any purposes.

  3. says


    Yes, I agree……and I want to expand your point to cover international same sex marriages also, where a US citizen, with capacity under marries a Netherlands individual in Amsterdam…..for example.
    It’s a valid marriage in the Netherlands, it must be recognized in every state of the Union or it becomes a restriction on travel, as you say.

  4. Clayton says

    I’m no lawyer, but this is a case that seems like it could bring down the whole DOMA house of cards.

    As someone who married in Canada and lives in Louisiana, I say great!

  5. Francis #1 says

    At the very least it could force all states to recognize the legal marriages of all same-sex couples. Which would effectively legalize marriage equality nationwide. All one would need to do is marry in an equality state and then go to their home state and they would be married.

  6. Howard says

    Interesting argument regarding Private International Law. I’ve never heard of this, but I’m not a lawyer. I was always under the impression that the US could recognize (or not) any marriage they choose. For example, a polygamist legally married in a country that legally recognizes polygamy, would not have their marriage recognized by the US. Perhaps some lawyer type can weigh in on this.

  7. bandanajack says

    i bet all those “confederate” states thought they slammed the door on gay couples with their laws and amendments, and that we would quietly go to our corners and weep. perhaps they thought we would go after the easier states first, not realizing the more onerous the restrictions, the easier it is to take it to court… and win.

  8. says

    @ HOWARD :
    Private International Law is also known as ‘ Conflict of Laws’ … is a subject in every law school.
    Basically it is about resolving disputes in a way which is compatible with the laws in the relevant countries.

    For example, in the post I have written above, it would seem to me that the Netherlands would recognise a marriage performed in the State of Mass. where SSM is valid.
    The USA citizen would have capacity by the law of his domicile, Mass. law, and the local law allows such marriages.
    The Netherlands citizen would also have capacity by his domicile law.

    Now if that couple move to the Netherlands they will be recognised as a valid married couple…..but not recognised if they move to Tennessee !!!!
    That is an appalling vista……to use a phrase from Lord Denning in a notorious case.

  9. Howard says

    As a California newlywed who is hesitant to travel to a non-equality state, I hope the courts clear this up soon. This state by state piece-meal approach to marriage equality is getting old real fast.

  10. Paul says

    Delighted to see this challenge in the Volunteer state. Not following how this relates to International Marriage issues, as the greater number affected are domestic arguments.

  11. plinx says

    The whole edifice of constitutionally imposed bigotry is coming down around the heads of social conservatives who mistakenly thought they could stop us. One word, bitchez: Inevitable.

  12. *****overTX says

    Jack, these amendments were proposed to influence voters which had very little understanding of the implications of the federal constitution upon their state constitutions. So many voters within the states believed that they were allowed, as voters, to install any provision they wanted in their state constitutions. The Republicans realized that they would be able to make make hay while the sun shined on the problem of “gays taking over marriage” and jumped on the bandwagon of get out the vote to defeat the “queers” by using the poorly educated voters of the general public. Those voters were not sophisticated enough to understand that anything in state constitutions contrary to the United States constitution are not “withstanding”. The Republicans were hoping that they could get a federal marriage amendment passed and forestall all these individual state lawsuits. Fortunately it did not play out in this manner. Those voters are now finding out that as the states taxpayers, they are having to expend the funds to defend their animus which is no longer as popular as it once was and is much more expensive that they thought it would be. All that money down the drain and they are losing cases right and left.

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