Judge: Tenn. Must Recognize Three Same-Sex Marriages

The state of Tennessee must recognize the legal marriages of three same-sex couples who wed in other jurisdictions, a federal judge ruled today.

BY Sunnivie Brydum

March 14 2014 6:39 PM ET

U.S. District Judge Aleta Trauger

A federal judge ruled this afternoon that Tennessee must recognize the marriages of three same-sex couples who filed a lawsuit contending the state's refusal to recognize their marriages violates the U.S. Constitution. 

According to Chris Geidner's analysis at BuzzFeed, the ruling applies only to the three couples who filed suit, since they did so only on their own behalf. According to the background detailed in the ruling, the couples — one lesbian and two gay male couples — were all legally married in other states before they moved to Tennessee, where laws effectively invalidated their relationships. 

In her decision to grant a preliminary injunction — stopping Tennessee from enforcing the Anti-Recognition Laws against the three same-sex couples — U.S. District Judge Aleta Trauger determined that the couples are likely to be successful in their constitutional challenge to Tennessee's prohibition on recognizing legal same-sex marriages performed in other states. The judge also noted the limited scope of today's decision  and stressed that it is not a final ruling on the merits of the constitutional issues raised in the case. 

"At some point in the future, likely with the benefit of additional precedent from circuit courts and, perhaps, the Supreme Court, the court will be asked to make a final ruling on the plaintiffs’ claims," writes Trauger in the ruling. "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."

Although today's decision applies only to the six plaintiffs who filed suit, LGBT advocates were quick to hail it as another step on the road toward full recognition of marriage equality in all 50 states. 

"Yet another federal judge has recognized that bans on marriage equality don't hold up to even basic constitutional scrutiny," said Human Rights Campaign president Chad Griffin in a statement. "Though today's ruling comes from Tennessee, it joins others issued recently in Virginia, Kentucky, Texas, Ohio, Oklahoma and Utah, and in this case the judge boldly noted that it won't be long before each and every remaining ban on marriage equality becomes a footnote in history. That day isn't here yet, but today Tennessee brought us one step closer to that goal."

As of Friday, federal and state lawsuits taking aim at discriminatory marriage laws have been filed in 28 states, according to national organization Freedom to Marry. This includes four federal lawsuits filed Thursday: one in Arizona, two in Indiana, and a federal suit seeking recognition for same-sex couples legally married in other states who live in Florida. Same-sex marriage is currently legal in 18 states and the District of Columbia.

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