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Same-sex marriage in Tennessee

Part 1: 2013-JAN to OCT: Protests for equality.
SSM poll. "Tanco v. Tennessee" lawsuit filed.

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In this web site, "SSM" refers to same-sex marriage; LGBT
refers to the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender community.

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2013-JAN-09: The Campaign for Southern Equality includes Tennessee:

The Campaign toured many of the Southern states, including Alabama, Georgia, Mississippi, North Carolina, and South Carolina, and Tennessee. They had local same-sex couples symbolically request marriage licenses and be refused. Their goal was to demonstrate how the marriage laws in these states discriminate against same-sex couples.

Two residents of Tennessee -- Matt and Raymie -- participated in the Campaign on JAN-09 in Morristown, TN:


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2013-MAY: Vanderbilt University poll of public opinion on SSM:

In 2006, an amendment to the state constitution banned all forms of recognition of same-sex relationsips including marriage, civil unions and domestic partnerships. It passed with an overwhelming vote of 81% in favor, 19% against.

In 2013-MAY a public opinion poll by Vanderbilt Universary asked Tennessee registered voters which option they preferred for same-sex couples. Results were:

  • 49% favored some form of recognition:
    • 32% favored same-sex marriage.
    • 17% favored civil unions.

  • 46% favored no recognition at all. They wanted the status quo to be preserved with same-sex couples regarded as "legal strangers."

  • 5% had no opinion or refused to answer.

Although support for same-sex marriage in the state remains low in comparision to the majority support nationally, it is still a major increase over the vote in 2006.

Chris Sanders, is president of the Tennessee Equality Project, a LGBT-positive group that favors marriage equality. He said that:

"Tennesseans are traditional " they are standing by their religious view of marriage " but they are not cruel. Tennesseans are looking for a way to help people and protect their conservative view at the same time." 3

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2013-OCT-21: Four married couples launch lawsuit "Tanco v. Tennessee" in federal District Court:

In 2006, voters in Tennessee overwhelmingly passed the Tennessee Marriage Protection Amendment to the state Constitution. It reinforced the existing state marriage law that had already banned same-sex marriages. The amendment requires the state to ignore same-sex relationships, treating such couples as mere roommates. Thus, couples cannot marry in Tennessee. Also, couples married in another state or country cannot have their marriage recognized in Tennessee. The amendment also banned recognition of civil unions or domestic partnerships entered into out-of-state.

The text of the amendment is:

"The historical institution and legal contract solemnizing the relationship of one man and one woman shall be the only legally recognized marital contract in this state. Any policy or law or judicial interpretation, purporting to define marriage as anything other than the historical institution and legal contract between one man and one woman is contrary to the public policy of this state and shall be void and unenforceable in Tennessee. If another state or foreign jurisdiction issues a license for persons to marry and if such marriage is prohibited in this state by the provisions of this section, then the marriage shall be void and unenforceable in this state." 4

Four same-sex couples from Tennessee launched the lawsuit Tanco v. Haslam in federal District Court. They had been legally married in other states and subsequently relocated to Tennessee. Because of the amendment, the couples do not receive any of the state benefits that married opposite-sex couples automatically do, The plaintiffs are attempting to have the federal District Court in Nashville order the State of Tennessee to recognize their status as married couples instead of their present allocation as "legal strangers."

The plaintiffs are:

  • Dr. Valeria Tanco and Dr. Sophy Jesty. They are professors of veterinary medicine at the University of Tennessee. They met while students at Cornell University. They married in New York State during 2011.

  • Army Reserve Sergeant First Class Ijpe DeKoe and Thom Kostura of Memphis. They were also married in New York State in 2011.

  • Kellie Miller and Vanessa DeVillez of Greenbrier. They were married in New York State during 2013.

  • Matthew Mansell and Johno Espejo of Franklin. They were married in California during 2008 during the few months between the legalization of such marriages by the State Supreme Court and before the passing of Proposition 8 by a narrow margin later that year. Prop 8 banned same-sex marriages once more. Marriage equality was later restored by the U.S. Supreme Court during 2013-JUN.

The plaintiffs' case was based on multiple considerations. They asserted that the refusal of Tennessee to recognize their marriages violates:

  • Their guarantees of equal protection and due process as stipulated in in the 14th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.

  • Their constitutionally protected right to travel from other states to Tennessee, and to relocate to Tennessee.

In addition, Dr. Tanco is pregnant with their first child, a daughter, whose birth is expected during 2014-MAR. The couple seeks a guarantee that both parent's rights will be respected and that they will be able to make health and other care decisions for their newborn child.

None of these are new or special privileges. They are merely asking for the same treatment that opposite-sex couples have always enjoyed: the right to have their existing marriages recognized at their new location.

Supporting the couples is the National Center for Lesbian Rights (NCLR) and a group of lawyers. 5,6

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This topic continues in the next essay.

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References used:

The following information sources were used to prepare and update the above essay. The hyperlinks are not necessarily still active today.

  1. Adam Polaski, "Why Raymie wants to call Matthew his husband in Tennessee," Freedom to Marry, 2013-FEB-13, at:
  2. "WE DO Campaign: Matt and Raymie," You Tube, videotaped on 2013-JAN-09, at:
  3. Leslie Salzillo, "Marriage Equality In Tennessee? Vanderbilt Poll Shows Significant Shift," Daily Kos, 2013-MAR-31, at:
  4. Steve Williams, "New Gay Marriage Lawsuit is Much Bigger than Tennessee," Care2, 2013-OCT-22, at:
  5. "Married Same-Sex Couples in Tennessee Ask Court for Immediate Protection of Their Families," The Rainbow Times, 2013-NOV-20, at:
  6. "Same-Sex Couples File Marriage Recognition Lawsuit in Tennessee," Press Release, National Center for Lesbian Rights, 2013-OCT-21, at:

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Home > Religious info. > Basic > Marriage > Same-sex marriage> same-sex marriage sub-menu > Tennessee > here

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Copyright © 2013 to 2014 by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Originally written: 2013-JAN
Latest update: 2014-AUG-09
Author: B.A. Robinson

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