NASHVILLE - The marriages of three same-sex Tennessee couples who are suing the state have been invalidated, at least temporarily, by a federal appeals court panel.
The couples were married in other states but live in Tennessee, where the constitution and state law recognize only marriages between one man and one woman. In March, a U.S. district court judge in Nashville granted a temporary injunction, forcing the state to recognize the marriages of the three couples.
But on Friday, the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Cincinnati put the lower court's order on hold because it says "the law in this area is so unsettled." The court ordered that Tennessee's appeal of the injunction receive an expedited hearing.
The ruling throws into question the status of a 1-month-old girl, born to plaintiffs Valeria Tanco and Sophy Jesty in March, days after the district judge forced the state to recognize their marriage while the lawsuit made its way through the courts. Tanco and Jesty's baby became the first in the state to have parents of the same gender listed on her birth certificate.
Plaintiffs' attorney Regina Lambert said in a telephone interview that Tanco and Jesty are not discouraged by the 6th Circuit's ruling. All four states in the 6th Circuit face challenges to their laws prohibiting same sex marriage.
"The 6th Circuit is realizing this is a critical, crucial issue," Lambert said. "It's happening all over the U.S. now at a very swift pace."
Lambert said she does not expect Tennessee to challenge the birth certificate of Tanco and Jesty's baby while the lawsuit is ongoing. The injunction "got them through the birth," she said, "and that's a big deal."
The state Attorney General's office said attorneys there are reviewing the effect of the ruling but did not comment further.
Seventeen states allow gay marriage, and federal judges have struck down bans in Michigan, Utah, Texas, Oklahoma and Virginia. Last year, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that the federal government must recognize marriages of same-sex couples.