Judge: Same-sex marriage legal for some Tenn. couples

A federal judge in Nashville has granted a preliminary injunction against the state's ban on same-sex marriage.

A lawsuit was filed in October on behalf of three couples who were wed in marriage-recognition states where they lived but, when they moved to Tennessee, found their vows were irrelevant. Today's ruling only applies to these three couples.

MORE: Knoxville couple celebrates same-sex marriage recognition

"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," wrote Judge Aleta Trauger in the order.

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

PREVIOUS STORY: Same-sex couple awaits marriage ruling

The state attorney general's office issued a statement: "We are reviewing the decision and intend to take all necessary steps to defend the law," spokeswoman Sharon Curtis-Flair wrote in an email.

The state bans same-sex marriage in both its statutes and constitution.

Plaintiff Matthew Mansell said he and his husband, Johno Espejo, married in California on Aug. 5, 2008, and made their home in the San Francisco Bay area. When the opportunity for a job transfer to Tennessee in 2012 arose, 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 seen the same way as his parents', who were married for 56. 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.

State Sen. Mike Bell, R-Riceville, 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 percent of the people of the state of Tennessee who devoted to define marriage as between a man and a woman. I am saddened to hear this news. I am hoping that the higher courts, which I am assuming this will be appealed, I am hoping the higher courts will overturn this activist judge's ruling," he said.

Legal analyst Dennis Francis weighed in on whether this ruling sets a precedent for future cases. Francis says it still marks early stages of a long uphill battle for same-sex marriage supporters in the state

"I think what it is is probably opening the door for further legal action against both the statute and the Tennessee constitutional amendment which bans same sex marriage," he said.

Tennessee passed a constitutional amendment in 2006 saying marriage in the state is defined between a man and a woman.

Francis says this lawsuit did not target the state's gay marriage ban. Instead, the lawsuit in federal court was asking for a full faith in credit ruling.

That means the state puts full faith in the laws of other states, and it will acknowledge same-sex marriages performed in states where it is legal.

Overturning the gay marriage ban amounts to a long road, but Francis notes state judges across the country are throwing out bans on gay marriage in various states.

Opponents of Friday's ruling say the judge overstepped her bounds. WBIR caught up with David Fowler with the Family Action Council for a response to the ruling.

"It was disappointing, but not unexpected," he said. "It's just another in a long line of unelected federal judges disregarding the rights of the state, the will of the people and in this case 80% of the voters in Tennessee, and denying us the right for ourself to define what marriage policy in our state should be."

Fowler says he believes Friday's ruling will have very little impact on the long term future of same-sex marriage in Tennessee.


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