Same-sex couple awaits marriage ruling

Same-sex couples in Chicago heard wedding bells Friday after a U.S. District Court bumped up the date gay couples would become eligible for marriage licenses.

But even as those marriages became legal in Illinois, should those couples come to Tennessee, their unions would not be recognized. A federal lawsuit is trying to change that by asking the State of Tennessee to recognize same-sex marriages performed in states where they're legal.

Valeria Tanco of Knoxville was already several months pregnant when she and six other plaintiffs filed a lawsuit last October. Now due next month, Tanco says it's become a more urgent issue because it also impacts her wife's parental rights.

"The possibility of her not being able to make decisions on our behalf is something that is really daunting," said Tanco.

Lincoln Memorial University Duncan School of Law Professor Matthew Lyon says recent decisions in courts like Kentucky and Ohio may set the stage for change in Tennessee.

A federal court in Kentucky ruled that state must recognize same-sex marriages earlier this month. In Ohio it was decided the names of same-sex spouses must be included on death certificates.

"The federal judge in Nashville is not bound by those decisions in Kentucky or Ohio, but she could certainly use them as persuasive authority," said Lyon. However, he points out all three states are fall under the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 6th Circuit. That means a ruling on appeals in either the Kentucky or Ohio case would also impact courts in Tennessee.

Lyon points to a federal decision last June as the reason so many states are seeing their laws being challenged now.

"The majority held the federal Defense of Marriage Act was unconstitutional-- specifically that the federal government was required to recognize same sex marriages," said Lyon. And now advocates are trying to replicate the same results on the state level.

"So the argument goes if the federal government in DOMA can't violate the constitution, nor can the state violate the federal constitution," said Lyon.

It's a decision not likely to come before her daughter's due date, but Tanco hopes one day the state will recognize their family.

"I think and I hope that our daughter will look back on the experience we've been putting her through with pride in her parents," said Tanco.


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