On eve of same-sex arguments, hundreds gather for marriage equality

Posted at 8:50 AM, Aug 06, 2014
and last updated 2014-08-06 11:38:34-04

Megan Smith doesn’t have insurance, even though her spouse is a nurse at a Chattanooga hospital.

Smith’s wife, Lindsey, had to pay $160 in court to legally change her name to match that of her spouse.

The couple also worries about the ramifications — without legal recognition — should one of them fall ill or they one day have children together.

That’s why the Smiths, who married this spring outside Tennessee and want their marriage to be considered legal within Tennessee, packed their Prius with friends and drove six hours to Cincinnati.

They wanted to show their support for the oral arguments scheduled this afternoon in a series of same-sex marriage cases from four states, including Tennessee, at the 6th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals.

“You can’t put into words what equality means,” Megan Smith said. “We go to work, come home, have dinner, sit on the couch with the dogs. We’re just like any couple.”

The couple and their friends joined with hundreds of other same-sex marriage supporters Tuesday evening at a rally at Lytle Park, just a few blocks from the Potter Stewart U.S. Courthouse, the site of today’s arguments.

The cases from Tennessee, Kentucky, Michigan and Ohio are all at different stages. Some plaintiffs are seeking full rights to marry in their state, while others, like in Tennessee, are seeking recognition of marriages legally conducted in other states.

Arguments begin at 1 p.m., first with the Michigan case and ending with the Tennessee case. In that case, styled Tanco v. Haslam, each side will receive 15 minutes to argue their points.

Regina Lambert, the lawyer representing Sophy Jesty and Val Tanco,a Knoxville couple and the name plaintiffs in the Tennessee suit, was at the rally, although her clients were not. The couple do plan to be at the courthouse today.

Rally speakers included plaintiffs from the Kentucky and Ohio cases, faith leaders, community activists and former Ohio Gov. Ted Strickland,who read to the crowd the lyrics of Bob Dylan’s “The Times They Are A-Changin’.”

Jim Obergefell,the plaintiff in one of the Ohio suits, described watching the U.S. Supreme Court overturn the federal Defense of Marriage Act last summer with his dying partner of more than 20 years, John Arthur.

The couple decided to marry shortly after, chartering a medical flight to Maryland and saying their vows on the tarmac. Now, nine months after Arthur died from Lou Gehrig’s Disease, Obergefell is fighting ensure his husband’s death certificate reflects their federal marital status.

“The final official record of John’s life, my husband’s life, would be wrong,” he said. “Our marriage, our relationship would be disregarded by the state we call home. That hurt a lot.”

Pastor Leslie E. Jones, who founded the Truth and Destiny Church in Cincinnati, acknowledged her Pentecostal upbringing as she rallied the crowd and urged them to chime in with “Amens”and “Preach, Preacher” cries when they felt inclined.

“We know that Ohio is ready for marriage equality because God is love and love is for everybody,” she chanted,with the crowd chiming in.

The Tennessee Equality Project,one of the Tuesday event’s sponsors, will not be sending a delegation because of the importance of a Chattanooga ballot referendum to undo the city’s non-discrimination and partner benefits ordinance in Thursday’s election, said executive director Chris Sanders.

The organization is planning a statewide tout to work with same-sex couples who want to marry in the state if and when it becomes legal. Officials will be at the Tennessee Valley Unitarian Universalist Church at 2 p.m. Saturday.

Tennessee Equality Project is trying to find a large list of officiants who are willing to marry couples if there is a window of opportunity. It’s also making sure couples understand all the ramifications of a decision to marry.

“I can imagine couples get married, go back to work, and turn in a status change for benefits and suddenly they’ve outed themselves when they think everything is protected,” Sanders said. “When in reality they may be working in a workplace that doesn’t accept them.”

It’s not clear when the 6th Circuit three-judge panel will hand down an opinion, though it will likely be several months.

“I don’t know whether it will happen here, but I do know we will have Day One (of legal same-sex marriage) at some point and we want people to be ready,” he said. “There’s a lot things for people to be aware of.”