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VOL. 39 | NO. 26 | Friday, June 26, 2015

Same-sex couple marries in Nashville after ban overturned

The Associated Press

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NASHVILLE (AP) - Nikki Vonhaejer and Lauren Mesnard became the first same-sex couple to marry in Nashville after the U.S. Supreme Court overturned the state's gay marriage ban on Friday.

The Davidson County Clerk's Office began issuing marriage licenses around noon, and the couple was married in the office. They said they would have a ceremony with their families in a couple of months and then go on their honeymoon.

Vonhaejer, who is 26 and works in a restaurant, told a reporter, "I'm just really excited to be able to marry the person I love."

Mesnard is 25 and works for FedEx. After the ceremony she said, "Now it's not like a special occasion to be normal."

Same-sex couples across the state were going to county clerks' offices to get marriage licenses on what many were calling "day one."

In Memphis, 38-year-old Marci Charles, and 29-year-old Anna D'Olive, were among the first same-sex couples to get marriage licenses on Friday.

Charles said they had a marriage ceremony two years ago on Memphis but now they are going to "make it legal"

"It's such a weight lifted off of us" Charles said of the ruling. "I'm jittery. I'm excited. I can't believe it."

Charles said the couple plans to move to Austin, Texas, soon, but they are glad they could get their license in Memphis, where Martin Luther King Jr. fought for equal rights.

"Doing it in a city like this, where Dr. King fought, is important to me."

The three couples who sued Tennessee two years ago to have their out-of-state marriages recognized said they were overwhelmed by all that was happening after the court ruled in their favor.

Valeria Tanco joked at a Knoxville news conference about crashing some of the weddings that were starting to happen around the state.

Her wife, Sophy Jesty, spoke of a feeling of immense relief at the decision.

"It feels to me like a huge weight has been lifted from our r elationship. I feel free today, the most free I've ever felt."

Tanco said they are especially happy their 15-month old daughter will grow up not feeling that her parents are different from anyone else's.

"There are no words to know that Emilia has legal parents now and that if she were ever to find herself in a situation where she lost one of us, she would always have the other," Tanco said.

Meanwhile, the ethics chief for the Nashville-based Southern Baptist Convention said he was disappointed but not surprised with the decision. Russell Moore is the president of the SBC's Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission.

Moore said he does not expect the government to force pastors to perform same-sex marriages, but he is concerned for the religious liberties of people with strong religious beliefs that God has defined marriage as between one man and one woman.

___

Tennessee Attorney General Herbert Slatery says his office will "take the necessary steps" to implement the U.S. Supreme Court's decision legalizing same-sex marriage in all 50 states.

At the same time, he is expressing strong opposition to the Friday ruling. He says the court's decision "not only changes the definition of marriage but takes from the states and their citizens the longstanding authority to vote and decide what marriage means."

In Tennessee, marriage between partners of the same gender was prohibited by state law and by a constitutional amendment approved by voters in 2006.

Slatery says it is disappointing "for the court to tell Tennesseans that they have no voice, no right to vote, on these issues."

___

The ethics chief for the Nashville-based Southern Baptist Convention says he is disappointed in the U.S. Supreme Court's ruling in support of same-sex marriage, but not surprised.

Russell Moore is the president of the SBC's Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission. Speaking by telephone, Moore said he is optimistic that in the long run the ruling will bring more people to the church when "the sexual revolution is not able to keep its promises."

Moore said he does not expect the government to force pastors to perform same-sex marriages, but he is concerned that religious liberties could suffer.

Moore said legal protections will be important for people with strong religious beliefs that God has defined marria ge as between one man and one woman.

___

Tennessee's Republican Gov. Bill Haslam issued a statement on the U.S. Supreme Court's Friday ruling in favor of same-sex marriage, promising to comply with the deci sion.

The ruling overturned Tennessee's ban and made gay marriage legal everywhere in the United States.

Haslam's statement said the administration will ensure Tennessee's departments are able to comply with the ruling "as quickly as possible."

Meanwhile, the Tennessee Republican Party issued a statement critical of decision and suggesting the fight was not over.

"Tennesseans overwhelmingly voted to define marriage as between one man and one woman. If a change was to be made, it should have been allowed to play out through the democratic process," party Chairman Ryan Haynes said in a statement. He added that, "the issue is far from settled."

___

Tennessee Democrats were applauding the U.S. Supreme Court's ruling overturning the state's same-sex marriage ban and making it legal throughout the United States.

U.S. Rep. Jim Cooper issued a statement saying, ""Love and equality win. I'm glad the Supreme Court ruled on the right side of history."

U.S. Rep. Steve Cohen said in a statement he hopes the ruling puts the issue to rest and "the Tennessee General Assembly does not attempt to thwart or undermine the ruling."

Tennessee Senate Minority Leader Lee Harris congratulated the couples in the case.

"Many of us have been fighting this battle against discrimination for a long time and put in so much effort," he said in a statement. "It has been a lo ng, difficult road to get here. And now we can celebrate."

___

Most county clerks in Tennessee seemed to be waiting for guidance from the state before issuing marriage certificates to same-sex couples.

The U.S. Supreme Court on Friday ruled that gay marriage was legal everywhere in the United States, overturning Tennessee's ban.

Sha ron Roberson, a deputy county clerk in Maury County, said "The phones have been ringing all morning" with people inquiring about marriage licenses.

The county is waiting to hear from the state how to proceed, she said.

Nashville's Davidson County Clerk's Office issued a statement saying state authorities have promised to "provide timely guidance regarding changes to the documents and processes required under state law."

State Attorney General Herbert Slatery has scheduled a news conference about the ruling for 2 p.m.

___

Matthew Mansell said he was "trying to breathe" after the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in favor of same-sex marriage on Friday.

Mansell and his husband, Johno Espejo (es-PEH'-ho), were two of the plaintiffs in the Tennessee case before the court. The couple married in San Francisco in 2008 before moving to Franklin for Mansell's job in 2012. They have since moved back to California.

Even though their marriage was recognized in California Mansell said he was relieved by the decision.

"Now we can live anywhere in the U.S. and be a legally married couple, even if I am transferred," he said. You can't always pick and choose where you live. My family doesn't have to worry anymore."

___

Sgt. 1st Class Ijpe deKoe was driving home from work and turning on the radio to listen to the news when his mother called to tell him about the Supreme Court's ruling in favor of same-sex marriage.

"And then the world exploded," he said in a telephone interview.

"You're not supposed to answer text messages while driving, but I could see the phone lighting up like Christmas. And it h asn't stopped."

DeKoe and husband Thom Kostura, of Memphis, were two of the six plaintiffs challenging Tennessee's gay marriage ban and anti-recognition laws. They were married in New York in 2011 before deKoe, an active Army reservist, was stationed in Millington.

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