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Tennessee Marriage Law Faces Important Challenge Today

WUOT News, Matt Shafer Powell

Gay marriage advocates are expected to pack a Cincinnati courtroom today as attorneys from Tennessee and three other states attempt to make the case that their respective state laws against gay marriage are unconstitutional.

In an unusual move, a three-judge panel of the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals will allow attorneys from Ohio, Michigan, Kentucky and Tennessee to plead their cases back-to-back. 

Among the Tennessee plaintiffs are Valeria Tanco and Sophy Jesty, two faculty members from the University of Tennessee’s vet school.  Tanco and Jesty were married legally in New York three years ago, but their marriage isn’t recognized in Tennessee. 

In 2006, Tennessee voters approved a constitutional amendment that, in part, recognizes the contract between a man and a woman as “the only legally recognized marital contract” in the state.  Eighty-one percent of voters approved it.

Although gay marriage advocates want the court to force the recognition of out-of-state same-sex marriages in Tennessee, they openly hope the case eventually leads to a rejection of the entire amendment.

Same-sex marriage bans in Oklahoma, Virginia and Utah were overturned in federal appeals earlier this year.  Later this month, the 7th Circuit Court is expected to hear arguments challenging gay marriage bans in Indiana and Wisconsin.  Some—or all—of these cases could eventually make it to the U.S. Supreme Court.

There is no specific timetable for the 6th Circuit judges to release their opinion.

NOTE:  This article was updated on September 29, 2014 to make two corrections:   The spelling of Sophy Justy's first name was corrected and the percentage of "yes" votes on the Marriage Protection Amendment was changed  from 82% to 81%. (The actual number was 81.25% but was rounded down)

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