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Supreme Court sets April 28 arguments on same-sex marriage for Knoxville couple, others

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Posted at 11:17 AM, Mar 05, 2015
and last updated 2015-03-06 10:55:55-05

WASHINGTON — A Knoxville couple and two others challenging Tennessee’s ban on same-sex marriage will have their case heard before the U.S. Supreme Court on April 28.

The high court announced Thursday the date it will hear oral arguments in gay marriage appeals from Kentucky, Michigan, Ohio and Tennessee. A ruling is expected by the end of June, which would likely decide the legality of gay marriage nationwide.

“It’s not something in the air anymore,” Val Tanco, the named plaintiff in the Tennessee case, said Thursday. “It’s actually happening; we have a date and a time.”

Tanco and her partner, Sophy Jesty, are veterinarians and professors at the University of Tennessee. The couple are raising a daughter, making the issue even more important to the first-time parents, Tanco said.

Like couples in dozens of other states, Tanco and Jesty decided to challenge Tennessee’s ban after the Supreme Court ruled in 2013 to overturn the federal Defense of Marriage Act. After a series of lower court decisions to overturn such bans, the 6th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals became the first to rule in favor of the states in November.

The Supreme Court, just weeks earlier, had declined to hear appeals from other courts. The 6th Circuit’s break in the consensus likely led the justices to agree in January to take on the issue.

Tanco, Jesty and their daughter, Emilia, who will have just turned a year old, will go to D.C. to hear the oral arguments, Tanco said.

Since the Supreme Court opted to take on their case, the couple has received calls from NPR and national newscasts about sharing their story, she said.

They’ve also received more support locally, Tanco said.

‘The other day, we were out doing what families do, maybe having dinner and running errands, and we had two couples in a row, in different places, come up to us and thank us,” Tanco said.

She said they’re hearing from fellow gay couples and from straight couples.

“I think because we all know someone who is gay,” she said.

Tanco, whose immediate family lives in Argentina, said they, too, are excited about the couple’s role in the case.

Tanco told her father his name would be going down in American history, given that hers is the featured name in Tanco v. Haslam.

“He said he hadn’t really thought about that, but he found it pretty funny,” she said. “They’re really supportive given the fact this means more security for our family, hopefully, if the Supreme Court rules in our favor.”

The three couples, who were all married outside Tennessee, argue in court briefs the Supreme Court “should not permit any state to deprive another generation of lesbian and gay persons of the opportunity to participate fully in marriage.”