Meet the Plaintiffs standing up for marriage at the 6th Circuit today

On August 6, the United States Court of Appeals for the 6th Circuit heard oral arguments in 6 different cases seeking the freedom to marry or respect for marriages legally performed in other states. The cases spanned four different states - Kentucky, Ohio, Michigan, and Tennessee - and involved more than a dozen different plaintiff couples who stood up for their freedom to marry in their state or spoke out about why they need the legal respect for their marriage where they live. 

Freedom to Marry caught up with many of these plaintiff couples prior to last month's big day at the 6th Circuit. You can read about the oral argument and listen to full audio from the big day here. And check out profiles of some of the couples making the case in the courts below:

Michael DeLeon & Greg Bourke

Bourke v. Beshear in Kentucky

The way that Greg Bourke and Michael DeLeon see it, their 32 years together have been divided into three lives - their years of traveling together as a newly together couple, the time they spent building their family and raising their two children, and the not-so-distant future where their children will be grown and the two of them will be on their own again.

Before they get to that third stage, however, Greg and Michael are committed to making the world a little bit easier for couples like them in their home state of Kentucky and the United States as a whole. Last summer, following the United States Supreme Court's landmark ruling that struck down the core of the so-called Defense of Marriage Act, Greg and Michael filed a lawsuit seeking respect for their marriage. They filed their case with the Fauver Law Office, led by primary attorneys Shannon Fauver and Dawn Elliot, with further involvement from Clay Daniel Walton & Adams attorneys Dan Cannon, Laura Landenwich and L. Joe Dunman. 

On February 12 of this year, they celebrated as Judge John G. Heyburn II ruled in their favor in their case, declaring that the Bluegrass State must respect the marriages of same-sex couples legally performed in other states. Their lawsuit was borne out of the couple’s attendance at a rally for marriage in Frankfort, Kentucky in March 2013, where they stood with same-sex couples from across the state in making the case that the entire country is ready for the freedom to marry.

Despite marrying in Canada in 2004 alongside their two children - Bella and Isaiah - Michael and Greg are still held back by anti-marriage laws in Kentucky. That's why their taking action with their case. 

"No matter what, we’re working together to support our family, to protect our children, and to set a positive example," Michael said. "That’s what we’re doing with this case: We want to make it clear that our family is not different from other families. We want to show that our marriage is not different from other marriages.”

Read the full profile at Freedom to Marry

Joe Vitale & Rob Talmas

Henry v. Wymyslo in Ohio

This spring, Joseph Vitale and Robert Talmas sat in a crowded court room in Cincinnati, Ohio, anxious for some clarity in the legal case they had filed with several other same-sex couples and the legal teams at Gerhardstein & Branch Co., JPA and Newman & Meeks Co., LPA.

The case seemed to make a simple request: All of the couples recently had or were imminently expecting to welcome children into the world, and they wanted to ensure that both parents' names would be listed on the birth certificates.

Many of the other couples hailed from Ohio, but Joe and Rob were in a somewhat different situation: They live in New York City, but they adopted their son Cooper from a birth mother who lived in Ohio. When they welcomed their son Cooper into the world in a state that did not respect their marriage license, they were only permitted to list one parent on the birth certificate.

It was a clear example of the way that the confusing patchwork of marriage laws in the country hurts real families - in New York, Rob and Joe are treated the same as any other family, but in Ohio and 30 other states, they are viewed as little more than friends.

But Joe and Rob aren't just friends - they're husbands, legally married on September 20, 2011, and they have been together for more than 16 years. They made the decision to raise a child together, and they knew that it was wrong for Ohio to tell them they could not both be their child's rightful parents.

The men had assumed that the fight for marriage and legal recognition was over for them last year, when the US Supreme Court struck down the so-called Defense of Marriage Act. But it became clear to them that so long as some states don't respect the freedom to marry, same-sex couples will continue to be subjected to different laws in different states.

Read the full profile at Freedom to Marry

Tim Love & Larry Ysunza

Love v. Beshear in Kentucky

Tim Love and Larry Ysunza - who prevailed as intervening plaintiiffs in a federal lawsuit seeking the freedom to marry in the state of Kentucky - know first-hand how important it is to be married and respected as such in their home state: Last summer, Tim's doctor discovered two major blockages in his heart, and she told him to go directly to the hospital. At the hospital, doctors told Tim that they would not even administer the perfunctory stress test, saying it was too risky.

"That's when it hit us," Tim said. "Here were are: We had always thought about the day that we'd start having health concerns, but we never took care of it - you don't think that one day you're going to be 55 years old and have heart issues."

Tim and Larry didn't have any paperwork in order authorizing Larry to make medical decisions for Tim, so they had to rush to make sure everything was in order - medical power of attorney and related paperwork.

Just minutes before heading into surgery, Tim and Larry finalized the necessary documents so that Larry could make decisions for his partner of three decades.

"You just don't think about things like that - and why should you have to?" Tim said. "We had a civil union from 2007 in Vermont, but that wasn't respected in Kentucky. You shouldn't have to draw up all of this extra paperwork - especially at such a stressful time. Other married couples don't even have to think twice about that issue - they know that their husband or wife can make those decisions for them."

The scare at the hospital - and the continued surgeries that Tim will face over the next several years - was the catalyst for Tim and Larry getting involved in the fight for marriage in Kentucky - but now that they're invested, they're ready to keep speaking out for equality. They know that it's time for for all love to be treated with the same respect and dignity.

They are a couple in every sense - and Kentucky is their home: It's where they met 34 years ago. It's where they fell in love and built a life together. It's where they worked together to take care of Tim's mother for the last 13 years of her life. And it's where they want to marry. 

"We're really lucky to be one of the couples representing all of the same-sex couples in the state of Kentucky," Tim said. "We're just thrilled to be a part of it."

Read the full profile at Freedom to Marry.

Jayne Rowse & April DeBoer

DeBoer v. Snyder in Michigan

Earlier this year, Jayne Rowse & April DeBoer watched as a 2-week long trial proceeded in Michigan surrounding their legal case seeking protection and respect as a family in Michigan: The women, who have been together for, are raising three wonderful children together, all of whom came into the couple's life through foster care. When they initially filed their case, Jayne and April were seeking the ability to jointly adopt their kids: Under Michigan law, they were told that they were not allowed to both be the legal parents simply because they are both women.

Later, the challenge expanded to seek the freedom to marry in Michigan, and in March, after the trial, Jayne and April prevailed: Judge Bernard Friedman struck down anti-marriage laws in Michigan and the ruling took effect immediately, allowing hundreds of couples in Michigan one day to tie the knot before a stay was issued by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 6th Circuit.

Jayne and April talked more about their adoption process and why it's so important to them to raise their family in Michigan in this great interview with Electablog. They told the blog, "We were talking to Dana Nessel [their eventual attorney in the case], and she said, 'Look, this is the way it is and, until someone comes along and changes this, these are your options. You can write down your wishes and pray or you can move to another state or somebody can fight this.' Jayne and I did a lot of talking and mulling it over until one day Dana called us and asked us what we wanted to do. And I told her that, you know, we’re just two nurses struggling to get by. We want to fight it but we don’t have the means to fight this. I mean, you’re talking court case upon court case. So, we started talking and she started talking then she said, 'We’ll do it. We’ll fight this.'

Read the full interview

Jim Obergefell & John Arthur

Obergefell v. Wymyslo in Ohio

This week, Jim Obergefell spoke at a rally for Why Marriage Matters Ohio about his journey over the past year fighting for the basic respect of his marriage in Ohio after two decades with the love of his life, John Arthur. He recalled last summer, when he and John, who was nearing the end of his battle with ALS, chartered a plane to fly from their home of Cincinnati to the state of Maryland so they could legally marry on the tarmac of the airport. They were working to protect their marriage: Jim knew that if John passed away, Jim would not be respected at all as John's partner of 20 years. 

John and James' dramatic journey to Maryland on July 11 required a medical transport plane to carry John in his hospice bed, at a cost of more than $12,000. In a brief, touching ceremony, they were married on the airport tarmac in Baltimore by John's aunt before returning to Ohio.

Even when they did marry, Jim and John knew that Ohio did not respect their marriage license - and, horrifically, they realized that were John to pass away, Jim would not be listed as John's surviving spouse on the death certificate. The men were angry and felt disrespected by the state that they love - and so they took the issue to court. Last July, they received a Temporary Restraining Order requiring Jim to be listed as John's surviving spouse - and in December, Judge Black issued his final order, declaring that for the purpose of issuing death certificates, Ohio must respect the legal marriages of same-sex couples. 

John was not able to see the final ruling in the case: He passed away in October 2013. 

"I am a husband and I am a widower," Jim said at the rally this week in Ohio. "I am not willing to give up my right to be either. I'm not going to give up my right to marry. John matters. I matter. Our marriage matters."

Read their story and watch a moving video from their wedding.

Matthew Mansell & Johno Espejo 

Tanco v. Haslam in Tennessee

Matthew and Johno, who are raising two children in Franklin, Tennessee, were one of three couples granted respect for their marriage licenses (the men married in California) this spring when a federal judge ruled in their favor in their case brought by the National Center for Lesbian Rights. Now, they're ready and excited to finish the job at the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 6th Circuit. Matthew works at a law firm as a conflicts analyst, and Johno is a stay-at-home dad who works part-time at the YMCA. They moved to Tennessee in 2012 and are excited to build their lives there with their son and daughter. 

Mansell told The Tennessean this year, "I know some people have difficulty with us using the word 'marriage,' but that's what it is. We do exactly the same things as everyone else does. We teach our kids to ride bikes, we mow the lawn, we do laundry, we argue about money. It's no different from what my parents did or what my sister has done for 32 years."

Brittani Henry & Brittni Rogers

Henry v. Wymyslo in Ohio

This spring, Brittany and Brittni teamed up with the legal team at Gerhardstein & Branch Co., LPA and Newman & Meeks Co., LPA - plus several other couples expecting the births of children in Ohio in May and June - to file a legal case seeking respect for their out-of-state marriage in order to be listed together on ther child's birth certificate. The women met in 2008 and got married in New York in January 2014, and they knew that when their child was born (with a due date in June 2014), only one of their names could be listed on the birth certificate because of anti-marriage laws in Ohio.

When Judge Timothy Black ruled in their favor in April 2014, he not only said they should be able to both be listed on their child's birth certificate: He also said that all marriages between same-sex couples in Ohio performed in other states must be respected in the Buckeye State. 

Brittani and Brittni spoke out about their case at a rally held this week for Why Marriage Matters Ohio. They said, "We filed this lawsuit for our son - so that we could both be listed as his parents."

Tammy Boyd & Kim Franklin

Bourke v. Beshear in Kentucky

"In the early 80s, I was working in Simponville, KY and would sometimes visit the local store, where Tammy worked," Kim Franklin said, reflecting on her girlhood crush on Tammy Boyd. "She was the most beautiful person that I had ever seen – but we were both girls, so I just admired her from afar, and in my mind. It was the 80s, and we lived in a rural community." 

But over the course of the years, again and again Kim would cross paths with Tammy and years later – in 2007 – they connected and really took the time to catch up after more than two decades of casual friendship.

 When they finally connected, Tammy gave Kim a letter and, Kim said, "It gave me a glimpse of hope that maybe we both felt the same way. It turned out that after a long talk, we discovered that we both had felt the same way since the early 80s. My head was spinning and my heart was exploding – but we were on our way to a life together."

“As time went on, we continued talking and talking,” Tammy added. “I simply fell head over heels in love with this woman. I could barely look at her – could not make eye contact with this woman that I wanted to spend the rest of my life with.”

On July 15, 2010, they traveled from Kentucky to Connecticut to get married, which they did in a beautiful beachfront ceremony.

“When she started walking toward me, I felt like I was going to pass out,” Kim said. “I started crying, because all of my dreams were coming true: The most beautiful person in the world was walking toward me.” 

“Our eyes locked and we were making history – our history,” Tammy said. “We stood hand in hand and exchanged vows that we had written but kept secret from each other. I was marrying the love I had been waiting for all my life.”

Now, they are working to ensure that their marriage is respected in their home state. “We are taking this journey of marriage for all Kentuckians, and I could not be more proud,” Tammy said. “May God see all things wonderful in this lifetime – and may all things happen the way it was meant to be: In love.”

Read the full profile at Freedom to Marry.

Valerie Tanco & Sophy Jesty

Tanco v. Haslam in Tennessee

This year, Valerie and Sophy greeted their newborn daughter, Emilia Maria Jesty, in Knoxville, Tennessee - and, because of a District Court ruling in a case brought by the National Center for Lesbian Rights declaring that the state of Tennessee must respect their marriage, Valerie was listed on the baby's birth certificate. It was a first for a same-sex couple in Tennessee.

The National Center for Lesbian Rights explained more: "Dr. Valeria Tanco and Dr. Sophy Jesty met while at the College of Veterinary Medicine at Cornell University in Ithaca, New York, and have been together for four years. As Sophy neared the end of her post-graduate fellowship, Val and Sophy began looking for teaching positions in veterinary medicine that were geographically close to another. The University of Tennessee, Knoxville offered them both positions in their respective specialties. Although the couple had married while living in New York, the State of Tennessee treats them as if they are two unmarried women."

Read more about their case

Pam & Nicole Yorksmith

Henry v. Wymyslo in Ohio

In April, Pam and Nicole celebrated as they received a ruling in their case - filed by Gerhardstein & Branch Co., LPA and Newman & Meeks Co., LPA and several other couples expecting the births of children in Ohio in May and June - declaring that Ohio must respect the marriages of same-sex couples performed in other states.  

It was a big win for Pam and Nicole, who now have two sons - Grayden and newborn Orion. The women met in 2006 and fell in love, then married in October 2008 in California. In the ruling, Judge Black explained their situation: "Failing to have both parents listed on their son’s birth certificate has caused the Yorksmith Family great concern. They have created documents attempting to ensure that Pam will be recognized with authority to approve medical care, deal with childcare workers and teachers, travel alone with their son, and otherwise address all the issues parents must resolve. Nicole and Pam allege that Defendants’ denial of recognition of Pam’s role as parent to their child is degrading and humiliating for the family."

On August 5, Pam and Nicole brought their children on stage at a rally for Why Marriage Matters Ohio, where they spoke out about why it's time for marriage nationwide. They said: "We are here for our families - for ALL Ohio families! We are a family."

Paul Campion & Randy Johnson

Bourke v. Beshear in Kentucky

Paul Campion and Randy Johnson have had a lot of practice when it comes to setting a positive example and standing up for what they believe in: As adoptive fathers of four beautiful children, Randy and Paul have tried to encourage their kids to speak up for themselves and work toward a better world.

That's why last summer, Paul and Randy joined this federal lawsuit seeking respect for marriages between same-sex couples legally performed in other states right in their home state of Kentucky. The men have lived in Kentucky for most of their lives together: They met in 1991 on a weekend when Paul, who lived in Western New York, was visiting his brother in Louisville. Paul and Randy met that weekend.

"After a very short time together, we knew it was love at first sight, which made Paul's planned return home very difficult," Randy said. But over the next few months, they talked on the phone every day, took weekend trips to see each other, and they quickly fell deeper and deeper in love.

Over the course of the next decade, the couple - who had promised their commitment to each other in 1992 with matching rings - worked to build their family. After many twists and turns in the complicated adoption process - which, especially in Kentucky, did not favor same-sex couples or gays and lesbians overall - they were finally proud parents to twin boys, and soon after, they welcomed a little girl into their lives, too. Four years later, they decided to be foster parents to a 7-year-old who Paul met through his work as a school counselor. Shortly after they became foster parents, they certified a final adoption of the child. Their happy family of six was complete.

"Our family is more of a blessing than we ever could have dreamed of," Randy said. "And yet, we continued to struggle with legal recognition as a family."

Even when they got legally married in July 2008 in California, Randy and Paul knew that their home state of Kentucky would deny them any and all respect for their marriage license. And as the years passed, they were continually faced with roadblocks denying them the protections and responsibilities that all other married couples received.

It's time for Kentucky to respect all families - and that's what Randy and Paul hope happens this fall, when the 6th Circuit Court of Appeals is expected to rule on their case, as well as 5 other marriage cases from four different states. They hope that their efforts to protect their family are fruitful in Kentucky - they hope that they are able to show all four of their kids the power of standing up for what's right.

Read the full profile at Freedom to Marry.

Ijpe DeKoe & Thom Kostura

Tanco v. Haslam in Tennessee

Ijpe and Thom's love story has roots in their childhood: The men have known each other since their teenage years, but they didn't start a romantic relationship until nearly four years ago.

Ijpe serves as a Sergeant in the Army Reserves, and in 2011, just before Ijpe began his tour of duty in Afghanistan with the Army, he and Thom said "I do." Thom returned home to the United States in 2012 and moved to Memphis to be with Thom, the love of his life. 

"I was excited and called Thom and let him know and it was just very exciting news and there was no advance notice that this was coming down the pike," Ijpe told local reporters in Tennessee after a ruling came down in their case with the National Center for Lesbian Rights granting them respect for their marriage license.

"It was very shocking at first and there hasn't been much time to process it because there have been so many people calling us and emails and text messages and Facebook has been exploding," Thom added. "It's been rather a lot to process. It feels pretty wonderful that all of those 'what-if' scenarios for us would be pretty much settled if we were recognized - everyone should be provided that comfort."

Jim Meade & Luke Barlow

Bourke v. Beshear in Kentucky

For 46 years, Jim Meade and Luke Barlow have stood by each other, supporting each other during every step of their lives together. 

They met in the fall of 1968, when Jim was studying at Morehead State University. As the youngest of fourteen children raised in Eastern Kentucky, Jim was quickly taken with Luke - Luke jokes that since Jim's parents never had a car or a television, he was easily impressed. That fall, Luke drove miles and miles from Lexington to Morehead, spending time with Jim, getting to know each other and falling in love.

By that November, they were indisputably a match: Luke gave Jim a ring, and the two have been together ever since. Over the next few years, they moved around a bit, spending time in Indiana, Iowa, and Tennessee and later purchasing two businesses together.

In October 2002, Jim was diagnosed with Non-Hodgkin's Lymphoma, and Luke was ready to endure the fight with him: "We asked the barber to clip us close to get ready for his chemo," Luke said, laughing, "It all came back eventually."

When Iowa approved the freedom to marry for same-sex couples, they took a trip to Davenport, where the former mayor of the city witnessed their wedding on July 30, 2009.

Now, Jim and Luke are only asking for Kentucky - and the rest of the country - to treat their marriage as equal to any other marriage. After nearly 46 years together, they know that it's time they were respected in their home state.

"After 45 years, there is so much to tell and not enough time," Jim reflected. "Love is timeless."

Read the full profile at Freedom to Marry.