Ten­nessee gay cou­ple head for day at court and date with his­tory

The China Post - - INTERNATIONAL - BY CHAN­TAL VALERY

Thom Kos­tura and Ijpe DeKoe are mar­ried in New York, but not in Mem­phis, where they now live.

Next week they are go­ing to try to fix this — for them­selves and all gay Amer­i­cans.

The cou­ple will ap­pear via their at­tor­ney be­fore the Supreme Court to ar­gue that a mar­riage con­ducted in one state should be rec­og­nized in all states.

If they win their battle, it will ef­fec­tively give same- sex unions na­tion­wide le­git­i­macy, a huge step for­ward for gay civil rights.

“I think it’ll be ex­cit­ing, for me at least,” said DeKoe, a Dutch­born U.S. Army re­servist who was nat­u­ral­ized as Amer­i­can in 2008, three years be­fore the pair wed.

“We’ve got a lot of peo­ple that want to speak with us, a lot of peo­ple that are for us. But also a lot of peo­ple who are against us.

“It’s an in­ter­est­ing place to be. At the front of this wave,” he told AFP in the cou­ple’s loft-style apart­ment in a con­verted sil­ver­ware plant.

Amer­i­can at­ti­tudes to same-sex re­la­tion­ships have gone through a rapid evo­lu­tion in re­cent years — opin­ion polls show the wider public is more tol­er­ant than ever — but the law has not kept pace ev­ery­where.

Kos­tura and DeKoe live in Ten­nessee, one of 13 states that not only do not per­mit gay cou­ples to marry, but do not rec­og­nize same-sex unions con­ducted else­where.

As they drive across coun­try they play a car game as their sta­tus changes with each bor­der: “We’re mar­ried! We’re not mar­ried!”

“It’s in­ter­est­ing to us when we cross a state line, an imag­i­nary line in the woods, all of a sud­den all our love, our re­la­tion­ship, is no longer legally rec­og­nized,” said Kos­tura.

Next Stop: Wash­ing­ton, D.C.

This pain is per­sonal to Kos­tura and DeKoe, but when they and seven more cou­ples get to Wash­ing­ton next week they will speak for many.

“We’ve not been able to ac­knowl­edge yet this is a na­tional thing,” said DeKoe.

“We’re def­i­nitely at the cen­ter of this hur­ri­cane,” added Kos­tura.

The in­tense public ex­po­sure that the pair now face, comes in com­plete con­trast to the low-key cer­e­mony that saw them mar­ried.

“We were prob­a­bly the

first gay cou­ple in our county to get mar­ried. It was sur­real,” said DeKoe, re­call­ing a day of pizza and prosecco on the beach.

New York state had le­gal­ized gay mar­riage just 11 days ear­lier, and DeKoe was on the point of be­ing de­ployed to Afghanistan.

Nine months later he was de­ployed to a base in Ten­nessee, and the pair was re­united — but not as a legally rec­og­nized mar­ried cou­ple.

“In the worst sce­nario if some­thing hap­pens to me, you’d have to ac­cept my death cer­tifi­cate that tells that I died as a sin­gle man,” DeKoe told Kos­tura, a 32-yearold art stu­dent.

“That’s hurt­ful to know that our re­la­tion­ship, the com­mit­ment we made to each other to take care of each other, is not even ac­knowl­edged.”

Even in less mo­men­tous en­coun­ters with bu­reau­cracy, such as ap­ply­ing for a driv­ing li­cense or fill­ing out a med­i­cal form, the cou­ple is con­fronted by re­jec­tion.

“Ten­nessee tells us that we’re sup­posed to put down that we’re sin­gle, but that would be be­tray­ing the per­son that I made a com­mit­ment to,” said Kos­tura.

“And I look for­ward to the re­lief for peo­ple when those lit­tle stings that this law has cre­ated in our lives no longer af­fects us.”

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