A federal judge has issued a preliminary injunction against Tennessee's same-sex marriage ban, asking the state to recognize three gay couples' out-of-state weddings pending a final decision on the constitutionality of the state's ban.
"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," U.S. District Judge Aleta Trauger wrote in Friday's decision.
The couples – Dr. Valeria Tanco and Dr. Sophy Jesty of Knoxville; Army Reserve Sergeant First Class Ijpe DeKoe and Thom Kostura of Memphis; and Matthew Mansell and Johno Espejo of Franklin – moved to Tennessee after getting married in states where their unions were recognized.
The court's ruling concerns only the three couples. The state does not recognize same-sex marriages or civil unions.
"This is the first nail in the coffin of marriage discrimination in Tennessee, and we won't stop until we have full marriage equality here. It will happen," Reuters quoted Abby Rubenfeld, the lead attorney in the case, as saying.
The office of Tenn. Gov. Bill Haslam, a Republican, and state officials are reviewing the opinion. "The governor is disappointed that the court has stepped in when Tennesseans have voted clearly on this issue. It's inappropriate to comment further due to the continuing litigation," David Smith, spokesman for the governor, was quoted as saying.
President of the Family Action Council of Tennessee, David Fowler, said the state's attorney general, Robert Cooper, should be prepared to appeal if the judge eventually revokes the same-sex marriage law.
The judge "clearly signaled her intent to continue the war by unelected federal judges against the rights of states and the citizens of that to determine what its policies regarding marriage should be," Fowler said in a statement.
Republican state Sen. Mike Bell expressed disappointment over the ruling.
"I am saddened that a federal judge has chosen to, at least in a narrow way, overturn the will of over 81% of the people of the state of Tennessee who devoted to define marriage as between a man and a woman." he said. "I am hoping the higher courts will overturn this activist judge's ruling."
Same-sex marriage is legal in 17 states and the District of Columbia.