Plaintiffs Matthew Mansel (left) and John Espejo
Appeals Court Unmarries Three Gay Couples in Tenn.

By Sunnivie Brydum

Originally published on Advocate.com April 28 2014 1:20 PM ET

Just one month after a federal district judge declared that Tennessee must recognize the legal marriages of three same-sex couples, an appeals court has placed a hold on that decision, legally invalidating the marriages, according to The Tennessean.

Tennessee attorney general Robert Cooper asked the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals to stay a March decision from U.S. District Judge Aleta Trauger, which ruled that the state's constitutional ban on recognizing or performing same-sex marriages violated the rights guaranteed to the three plaintiff couples by the U.S. Constitution. 

In its decision issued Friday, the Sixth Circuit granted that stay, citing the possibility that Cooper might prevail on appeal and taking into account the "possibility of irreparable harm for the state of Tennessee and the fact that the laws around same-sex marriage are 'unsettled,'" reports The Tennessean.

The case, known as Tanco v. Halsam, was filed by the National Center for Lesbian Rights on behalf of three same-sex couples, each of whom married in other states with marriage equality, then moved to Tennessee, which has a statutory and constitutional prohibition on recognizing or performing same-sex marriages. Oral arguments in the appeal have not yet been scheduled.

Despite the stay, which effectively reinstates existing Tennessee law and therefore invalidates the plaintiffs' marriages in the state, attorneys for the couple are optimistic about the ultimate outcome of the case. 

Nashville-based attorney Abby Rubenfeld told The Tennessean that the Sixth Circuit decision demonstrates that the court is eager to resolve these issues on an expedited timeline. 

"Every single court that's considered the merits since Windsor [the U.S. Supreme Court's June decision striking down the so-called Defense of Marriage Act] has ruled the same way," Rubenfeld said. 

Indeed, since the Supreme Court struck down a key section of DOMA last summer, nine federal courts have ruled in favor of marriage equality, while none has elected to uphold statewide bans on same-sex marriage or the recognition thereof. Nationwide, there are currently 65 cases in state and federal courts seeking the freedom to marry in 31 states and territories, according to advocacy group Freedom to Marry. Pro-equality decisions out of Utah and Oklahoma have been appealed by the states, and were argued before the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals in Denver earlier this month. Seven other pro-equality rulings — in Tennessee, Texas, Virginia, Ohio, Nevada, Michigan, and Kentucky — are awaiting hearings in federal appeals court, with most observers expecting one or more of those cases to come before the U.S. Supreme Court in the near future.