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Federal district court declines to issue stay in Tennessee marriage recognition case

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The federal judge hearing the challenge to Tennessee’s refusal to recognize same-sex marriages performed outside of the state has denied a request by the state to stay her preliminary decision in favor of the three same-sex couples who are plaintiffs in this case. The judge had ruled that state officials must recognize their out-of-state same-sex marriages while the case is proceeding in federal court.

EqualityOnTrial previously reported on the state’s request to stay the preliminary injunction:

The basis for the request, according to the memo filed in support of a stay, is that the Constitutional question is a “serious” one, and that “[p]laintiffs will not be irreparably harmed by a stay pending appeal.[.. [a]]lthough the Court has found the circumstances of Plaintiffs Tanco and Jesty “particularly compelling,” their concerns regarding healthcare decisions arising from the birth of their child can be (or could have been) addressed through legal methods such as powers of attorney and advanced directives.”

The judge found that none of the factors in deciding whether to grant a stay weigh in favor of the state here:

Trauger on Thursday denied that request, concluding:

The court finds that all four factors weigh against a stay and in favor of continuing enforcement of the Preliminary Injunction. Even if the court were to accept that there is arguably a “serious question” about the merits of its constitutional analysis, the defendants have not even approached their burden to show “irreparable harm that decidedly outweighs the harm that will be inflicted on others if a stay is granted.”

Tanco v. Haslam was filed by the National Center for Lesbian Rights (NCLR). The district court’s decision is on appeal to the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals.

For more information on Tanco v. Haslam from The Civil Rights Litigation Clearinghouse, click here.


  • 1. Ragavendran  |  March 20, 2014 at 3:08 pm

    Yay! Hopefully the 6th Circuit (and SCOTUS, if it gets up there) upholds the decision to decline the stay!

  • 2. davep  |  March 20, 2014 at 3:24 pm

    Very glad to heart this, especially given the particular circumstances of the plaintiffs.

  • 3. Pat  |  March 20, 2014 at 3:37 pm

    Great indeed, I also <3 this 😉

  • 4. davep  |  March 20, 2014 at 3:42 pm

    hee hee. Nice when a typo works just as well as the intended text. Considering I could have written something like 'very glad to wear this' or 'very glad to tear this'.

  • 5. Fr. Bill  |  March 20, 2014 at 3:59 pm

    I think the judge's decision represents a turning point in the conversation. Since courts are finding that the laws against marriage equality don't even pass the rational basis test they offend the common sense test. The only other justifications are 1. Sectarian religious beliefs, 2. Tradition and 3. Animus or irrational fear. None of these stand up in court as a basis for denying basic human rights to law abiding citizens who happen to belong to a minority group. The circumstances of this plaintiffs in this case and the arguments of the State have led this judge (and many others) to conclude that these laws or constitutional amendments fail the common decency test. No wonder the self-proclaimed Christians such as Ralph Reed under attack – the tide has turned against them.

  • 6. Rick O.  |  March 20, 2014 at 7:58 pm

    Hmm – 6 gay and lesbian people recognized by a judge as real, 1st class citizen individuals with actual human needs deserving of legal protections. I usually try to ignore "human interest" stories (right along with cat videos), but this seems wonderful. Is this the first time a judge in one of these cases has really recognized the individual plaintiffs in such a way?

  • 7. Eric  |  March 20, 2014 at 8:01 pm

    No, the Utah decision was the first where a judge didn't trample the fundamental rights of the plaintiffs by issuing a stay.

  • 8. StraightDave  |  March 20, 2014 at 10:55 pm

    I think the Ohio deathbed marriage recognition was one of those.

  • 9. Fluffyskunk  |  March 20, 2014 at 9:03 pm

    If nobody else will issue a stay, the Supremes will. The fifth factor is the only factor that matters: Did the decision grant equal rights to LGBT Americans? If so, that's an automatic stay. I know I've mentioned it here before but this unstated "gay means stay" policy is probably the #1 thing that infuriates me about all the myriad court cases we've got going on right now. It's so obvious that this is the unstated policy and the four factors are utterly irrelevant when deciding whether to stay a marriage equality decision.

  • 10. sfbob  |  March 20, 2014 at 9:33 pm

    About the only possible acceptable excuse (and would still be just an excuse) the Supreme Court might have had for issuing a stay on the ruling in Herbert vs Kitchen is that they wish to issue a more wide-ranging ruling once the Tenth District rules on the state's appeal. Having issued Windsor there is no conceivable way for Supreme Court to uphold individual states' marriage equality bans. I mean of course they could do that; the Roberts court has certainly have issued any number of egregious and nonsensical opinions in the recent past (Citizens United being merely the worst of the worst), but given the tenor of Windsor it would defy credulity for them to turn around and rule the opposite way on state-level bans.

  • 11. ebohlman  |  March 21, 2014 at 2:43 am

    [UPDATE: it's the 10th Circuit, not the 6th, that's involved in the UT case]
    Actually in Kitchen specifically I can see a legitimate reason for the SCOTUS's stay: the state of Utah inexplicably (though most likely due to either incompetence or hubris) failed, during the litigation, to move for a stay in the event of a decision unfavorable to them. Such a motion is standard procedure and would usually be granted. Asking for a stay after a final judgment is issued, however, is a bit unusual, and "we didn't do our homework" isn't the sort of argument judges like to hear. So both Judge Shelby and the 10th Circuit panel were a little pissed off at UT and decided, as was their prerogative, that UT must have known what it was doing when they didn't initially ask for the stay and that there were no changes to circumstances of the case that warranted letting one of the parties change horses in midstream.

    However, the effect of all this would be that the 10th would end up hearing a case of first impression on a very important matter with a big thumb on the scale, namely that ruling against the plaintiffs would involve withdrawing a previously-recognized right. The SCOTUS probably would rather not see an important precedent being determined by a technicality involving a procedural screw-up by one of the parties, and thus issued the stay in order to ensure that the case would get a full appellate review. I really don't think we can read more than that into the decision to grant the stay..

  • 12. Tim  |  March 21, 2014 at 7:29 am

    Thanks for this perspective. Fyi for newbies just following – it's the "10th" and not the 6th.

  • 13. tim  |  March 21, 2014 at 7:29 am

    For Ebohlman

  • 14. Ragavendran  |  March 22, 2014 at 1:31 am

    My favorite part, where the judge uses Baker (this is not Baker v. Nelson, but a different case) against the State, demonstrating that we too have bakers on our side 🙂
    "Even if the court were to accept that there is arguably a “serious question” about the merits of its constitutional analysis, the defendants have not even approached their burden to show “irreparable harm that decidedly outweighs the harm that will be inflicted on others if a stay is granted.” Baker, 310 F.3d at 928. Therefore, for the reasons stated herein, the Motion to Stay is hereby DENIED."

  • 15. Ragavendran  |  March 25, 2014 at 8:59 am

    Tennessee asks 6th Circuit to stay preliminary injunction in Tanco v. Haslam:

    Boy, they're not giving up, are they – it's just three couples… THREE! How much harm can that inflict upon the State, even if they prevail upon appeal?

    One of the plaintiff couples was expecting their baby to be born on March 21. Does anyone know if the baby has been delivered? Thanks to the district judge's denial of stay, the baby should have been born with the full protection afforded to them by the recognition of their moms' marriage.

  • 16. Ragavendran  |  April 9, 2014 at 9:05 am

    Happy Update: Last month, Emilia Maria Jesty was born to Valeria Tanco and Sophy Jesty listed as "father" and "mother" on her birth certificate, after the judge declined to stay her preliminary injunction. Both the preliminary injunction and the denial of its stay are being appealed to the Sixth Circuit right now.

    Gay marriage first in Tenn.: Woman listed as father on birth certificate

  • 17. Equality On TrialSixth Ci&hellip  |  August 7, 2014 at 1:10 am

    […] in the lower court. The state sought to halt the order from going into effect, but the same judge declined to issue a […]

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