Lawsuit Targets Tennessee’s Refusal To Recognize Gay Marriages From Other States

Sophy Jesty (left) and Valeria Tanco were married in New York two years ago, before a spousal hire brought the two professors of veterinary medicine to UT Knoxville. Tanco is expecting a girl they'll name Amelia in March, and Jesty says having their marriage recognized in Tennessee is important for many reasons, including parental rights. (Credit WPLN / Daniel Potter)

Sophy Jesty (left) and Valeria Tanco were married in New York two years ago, before a spousal hire brought the two professors of veterinary medicine to UT Knoxville. Tanco is expecting a girl they’ll name Amelia in March, and Jesty says having their marriage recognized in Tennessee is important for many reasons, including parental rights. (Credit WPLN / Daniel Potter)

A lawsuit filed in federal court Monday would require Tennessee to legally recognize marriages of gay couples that have taken place in other states.  Right now Tennessee’s constitution say such marriages are not valid in the state.

The plaintiffs include Val Tanco and Sophy Jesty, who were married in New York a couple years ago.  Now both are professors of veterinary medicine at the University of Tennessee Knoxville.

They say the state has been very welcoming overall.  But with Tanco carrying a baby girl due next spring, Jesty wants their marriage to give her parental rights, too:

“There’s a real fear for me that – I don’t have any legal protections.  I don’t have the ability to make decisions on Val’s behalf or our baby’s behalf, which any parent should be able to make.  If Val’s away and our daughter breaks her arm and I need to take her to the hospital, I need to be able to make the decisions.”

The lawsuit is intentionally narrow, but Abby Rubenfeld says there will be a push for legal same-sex marriage in Tennessee, too, saying quote “the dominos are falling.”

Last week the mayor of Knoxville moved to extend benefits to same-sex partners of city workers.  In Nashville, officials say they’re studying the cost of a similar move.

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