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Tanco v. Haslam (6th Cir.)

At issue in Tanco v. Haslam was the constitutionality of Tennessee’s discriminatory marriage laws.  Three same-sex couples validly married outside the state challenged Tennessee laws that prohibited the state from recognizing their marriages and that excluded them from the benefits of marriage available to married opposite-sex couples. On March 14, 2014, District Court Judge Aleta A. Trauger ruled that Tennessee must recognize the plaintiffs’ marriages, holding that the state’s discriminatory marriage laws violated the Due Process and Equal Protection Clauses of the Fourteenth Amendment, and predicted in her opinion that “proscriptions against same-sex marriage will soon become a footnote in the annals of American history.”  The state appealed Judge Trauger’s ruling to the United States Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit, which stayed that ruling pending appeal.  

On June 16, 2014, Constitutional Accountability Center and the Cato Institute jointly filed a friend-of–the-court brief in Tanco, urging the court of appeals to uphold the lower court’s decision.  Our brief demonstrated that the text and history of the Fourteenth Amendment guarantee equality under the law and require equality of rights for all classes of persons and groups, including gay men and lesbians.  The Framers of the Fourteenth Amendment recognized the right to marry as a basic civil right of all persons.  As our brief demonstrated, the Amendment’s sweeping guarantee of equality unambiguously applied to the plaintiffs in Tanco, and prohibited the discriminatory marriage laws at issue in this case.

Tanco was one of three cases before the Sixth Circuit involving marriage equality in which CAC filed an amicus curiae brief.  The others were Bourke v. Beshear and DeBoer v. Snyder.  On November 6, 2014, the Sixth Circuit handed down an opinion authored by Judge Jeffrey Sutton (and joined by Judge Deborah Cook) reversing the rulings of the courts below; Judge Martha Daughtrey dissented.  With this decision, the Sixth Circuit became the first federal court of appeals since United States v. Windsor to uphold state laws denying marriage equality to same-sex couples and created a split among the circuit courts of appeals.  Plaintiffs filed a petition for a writ of certiorari with the Supreme Court on November 14th, which was granted on January 16, 2015.  In Tanco – and its companion cases Obergefell v. Hodges, DeBoer, and Bourke – the Supreme Court will resolve two questions, whether the Fourteenth Amendment requires states to license the marriages of same-sex couples, and whether the Fourteenth Amendment requires states to recognize the marriages of same-sex couples legally entered into in other states.

On March 6, 2015, CAC filed an amicus curiae brief in the consolidated cases, urging the Supreme Court to reverse the Sixth Circuit’s ruling. For more information about the consolidated cases and CAC’s involvement, please visit our Supreme Court case page for Obergefell, et al.