Tennessee Must Recognize The Marriages Of Three Same-Sex Couples, At Least For Now

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 federal judge in Nashville says Tennessee must recognize the marriage of three gay couples who sued the state in October.

All three couples were married in other states before moving to Tennessee. Their lawsuit alleged discrimination.

Judge Aleta Trauger’s preliminary injunction only affects those three couples.

The ruling does not change Tennessee law, which still forbids same-sex marriage, because there are other pending federal cases across the country that will influence final outcome of this case.

The couples’ lawsuit challenges Tennessee’s “Anti-Recognition” laws, which make same-same marriages unlawful in the state.

Prominent civil rights attorney Abby Rubenfeld represented the plaintiffs in the case on behalf of the National Center for Lesbian Rights.  The suit contended that Tennessee’s marriage law violated the federal law concerning equal protection and due process, in addition to the right to travel between states.

In a statement, Rubenfeld told WPLN that  “this is a huge win in Tennessee, and sets the stage for full marriage equality in this state.”

“The Judge found that there is a likelihood that we will succeed on the merits–meaning a likelihood that the anti-equality statute and state constitutional amendment will be fully struck down soon. She also noted the consistent view of all of the post-Windsor courts in finding these anti-equality laws to be unconstitutional.

It is also significant that Judge Trauger, like most of the other courts that have ruled on these issues since Windsor, found that the laws cannot pass even the most minimal level of constitutional scrutiny. Every court that has considered these cases since Windsor have found that the laws violate the United States Constitution.”

In the conclusion of her ruling, Trauger hinted that more sweeping change may be looming.

“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,” she wrote. “And that proscriptions against same-sex marriage will soon become a footnote in the annals of American history.”

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.

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