Judge recognizes gay marriages of 3 Tennessee couples

7:13 AM, Mar 15, 2014   |    comments
Sophy Jesty, left, and Valeria Tanco speak outside the Davidson County Courthouse in October in Nashville, Tenn., after joining other couples in a lawsuit to require the state to recognize same-sex marriages.
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(USA TODAY) NASHVILLE - A federal judge here granted a preliminary injunction Friday against the state's ban on same-sex marriage in certain instances.

In October three same-sex couples filed a lawsuit asking the state to recognize their marriages that had been performed in states where gay marriage is legal. The four couples taking part in the suit were living and had been married in New York or California but had moved to Tennessee.

"At this point, all signs indicate that, in the eyes of the United States Constitution, the plaintiffs' marriages will be placed on an equal footing with those of heterosexual couples and that proscriptions against same-sex marriage will soon become a footnote in the annals of American history," Judge Aleta Trauger wrote in the order.

Friday's U.S. District Court ruling applies only to these three couples.

Nashville lawyer Abby Rubenfeld, who represents the couples, cheered the legal win and said it was a good first step toward total equality for all same-sex married couples in Tennessee.

The state bans same-sex marriage in both a state law passed in 1998 and a constitutional amendment passed in 2006.

"We are reviewing the decision and intend to take all necessary steps to defend the law," the state attorney general's office said in a statement.

The couples who filed suit hail from across Tennessee: Matthew Mansell and Johno Espejo of Franklin, about 20 miles south of Nashville; Drs. Valeria Tanco and Sophy Jesty of Knoxville; Ijpe DeKoe and Thomas Kostura of Memphis; and Kellie Miller and Vanessa DeVillez of Greenbrier, about 20 miles north of Nashville.

Mansell said he and his husband married Aug. 5, 2008, in California and made their home in the San Francisco Bay area. When the opportunity for a job transfer to Tennessee arose in 2012, they worried about their son and daughter, now 7 and 5, but decided to move so they could enjoy Williamson County schools.

"It was different in the fact that we had to be a little bit careful about how we presented ourselves, that we didn't have to scare the neighbors away, but they've been very, very supportive of us," he said.

Mansell and Espejo have been together for 19 years, and Mansell said he wants his marriage to be seen the same way as his parents, who were married for 56 years. His mother recently moved from Arizona to live with them.

"I would hope that the state does not appeal and that this can be a ruling on the merits of our suit and allow other people similarly situated or who want to get married in the state of Tennessee to do so," he said.

GOP state Sen. Mike Bell of Riceville, Tenn., said he was disappointed in the ruling.

"I am saddened that a federal judge has chosen to, at least in a narrow way, overturn the will of over 81% of the people of the state of Tennessee who devoted to define marriage as between a man and a woman." he said. "I am hoping the higher courts will overturn this activist judge's ruling."

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