- Associated Press - Friday, June 26, 2015

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) - The Latest from Tennessee on the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling overturning the state’s ban on same-sex marriage and making it legal everywhere in the United States. (All times Central)


6:45 p.m.

Several dozen people attended a rally at the Memphis Gay and Lesbian Community Center on a steamy Friday afternoon. The rainbow flag had a strong presence and rainbow colors were seen on wool hats, socks, T-shirts and suspenders of people at the rally.

Justin Smith, the Shelby County chair of the Tennessee Equality Project, told the crowd that he was in disbelief that the Supreme Court legalized same-sex marriage.

“This has been a special day for justice, love and equality across the United States,” Smith said. “We are finally equal in the eyes of the law. Our love matters.”

Three couples participated in marriage ceremonies at the event. They included Jennifer Ballheimer and Alisha Wall, who held hands as former county commissioner Steve Mulroy presided over the ceremony. Wall, 34, wore a T-shirt that said “Free Your Mind” and rainbow suspenders.

At the end of the ceremony, Mulroy introduced the couple as Mrs. and Mrs. Wallheimer, which drew cheers from the crowd.

Ballheimer, 35, said the couple had a ceremony recently in Memphis and they were keeping an eye on the Supreme Court to see when a ruling would be handed down. Once the ruling was released Friday morning, the couple went to the Shelby County Clerk’s Office to get their marriage license.

Ballheimer said she had yet to fully grasp the magnitude of the ruling and her place in history.

“We’re still kind of in shock and the adrenaline is going,” Ballheimer said. “I’m sure when we settle in this evening, once we just kind of take a breath, a lot of that will come into play as far as thinking about what it really means for everyone.”

Ballheimer said the couple plans to go to New Orleans and probably Hawaii for vacations and a honeymoon.

Wall is a teacher, and Ballheimer is a mortgage broker.


6:45 p.m.

After work on Friday, about 300 gay rights supporters began converging on Nashville’s Public Square. The area already was decorated for a gay pride festival with rainbow flags hanging from the surrounding light posts.

A small group gathered on a busy corner cheering, blowing horns and accepting honks and shouted congratulations from passing vehicles.

David Cellon (sa-LON’) was on the square with his husband, John Kohlburn. Cellon said he has been marching on Washington since the 1980s and never thought he would see this day.

“I never expected marriage equality, that was not our goal,” Cellon said. We just did not want anybody to pass laws against us or beat us up.”

Cellon and Kohlburn were married in Maine in January but said they might get married again in Tennessee. That’s because they have a friend who is both a judge and an Elvis impersonator who really wants to perform the ceremony.

Emily Logan was also on the square. She said she isn’t gay but is an ally who has fought for gay rights. That includes protesting a Tennessee bill that would have made it illegal for teachers to discuss homosexuality before ninth grade.

“I can’t believe that just five years ago I was standing here with tape over my mouth and a sign that said, ‘It’s OK to say “gay.”’”

After the impromptu rally, the group dispersed to join the gay pride festival, which was getting underway in the center of the square.


4:30 p.m.

A former Belmont University soccer coach who left the private Christian university after coming out to her students as gay has gotten married in Nashville.

Lisa Howe says she and her partner had talked about getting married if the U.S. Supreme Court lifted Tennessee’s gay marriage ban, but they hadn’t expected to be able to do it so soon.

They went to the Davidson County Clerk’s office at about 12:30 p.m. They were married at 1:30, there in the office, accompanied by their 4-year-old daughter and about a dozen friends.

The couple had a commitment ceremony in 2010 with family, friends and food, but they wanted to make it legal.

Howe says they won’t have another ceremony. “We’re probably still paying for the last one.”


4 p.m.

Two Tennessee lawmakers say they are working on a bill to protect clergy and houses of worship that refuse to perform or host same-sex marriages.

The announcement comes in response to the Friday ruling by the U.S. Supreme Court legalizing same-sex marriage in all 50 states.

In a news release, State Rep. Bryan Terry says many constituents are concerned about how the court’s ruling will impact their churches and their religious beliefs. The Murfreesboro Republican is working with Dresden Republican state Rep. Andy Holt to craft the “Pastor Protection Act.”

Holt says in the news release the act is an attempt to “resist the abuse of our own government.”


3:15 p.m.

Laura Harris and Nancy Wiers have married in Memphis in a ceremony under a massive oak tree outside the Shelby County Clerk’s Office.

The couple was among the first to marry in Tennessee after the U.S. Supreme Court overturned the state’s ban on gay marriage Friday.

They held hands and stared into each other’s eyes as Minister Elaine Blanchard officiated. Also present were the couple’s 5-year-old daughter and more than a dozen friends.

The well-wishers clapped as Blanchard told the 46-year-old Harris and 64-year-old Wiers, “It is my pleasure and honor to pronounce you married, woman and woman, in love.”

Harris then added a shout of “Woo hoo!”


2:35 p.m.

Marci Charles and Anna D’Olive are among the first same-sex couples to get marriage licenses in Memphis.

Charles, 38, says the couple had a marriage ceremony two years ago but now they are getting a license to “make it legal.”

Charles and 29-year-old D’Olive plan to move to Austin, Texas, soon, but they are glad they can get their marriage license in Memphis, where Martin Luther King Jr. fought for equal rights.

Charles says, “Doing it in a city like this, where Dr. King fought, is important to me.”


2:20 p.m.

Tennessee Attorney General Herbert Slatery says his office will “take the necessary steps” to implement the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision legalizing same-sex marriage in all 50 states.

At the same time, he is expressing strong opposition to the Friday ruling. He says the court’s decision “not only changes the definition of marriage but takes from the states and their citizens the longstanding authority to vote and decide what marriage means.”

In Tennessee, marriage between partners of the same gender was prohibited by state law and by a constitutional amendment approved by voters in 2006.

Slatery says it is disappointing “for the court to tell Tennesseans that they have no voice, no right to vote, on these issues.”


1:35 p.m.

Nikki von Haeger and Lauren Mesnard have become the first same-sex couple to marry in Nashville after the U.S. Supreme Court overturned the state’s gay marriage ban.

The Davidson County Clerk’s Office began issuing marriage licenses around noon on Friday, and the couple was married in the office. They say they will have a ceremony with their families in a couple of months and then go on their honeymoon.

Von Haeger, who is 26 and works in a restaurant, told a reporter, “I’m just really excited to be able to marry the person I love.”

Mesnard is 25 and works for FedEx. After the ceremony she said, “Now it’s not like a special occasion to be normal.”


12:40 p.m.

Sophy Jesty says she feels free, “like a burden or weight has been lifted” after the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in favor of same-sex marriage.

Jesty and her wife, Valeria Tanco, moved to Tennessee for work after marrying in New York and are two of the plaintiffs in the Supreme Court case.

Both are professors at the University of Tennessee College of Veterinary Medicine, so they gathered in the school’s hallway with friends and co-workers to await the decision on Friday.

Tanco said everyone was crying and yelling with excitement. She said she is especially happy the couple’s 15-month-old daughter will grow up not feeling that her parents are different from anyone else’s.


12:05 p.m.

The ethics chief for the Nashville-based Southern Baptist Convention says he is disappointed in the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling in support of same-sex marriage, but not surprised.

Russell Moore is the president of the SBC’s Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission. Speaking by telephone, Moore said he is optimistic that in the long run the ruling will bring more people to the church when “the sexual revolution is not able to keep its promises.”

Moore said he does not expect the government to force pastors to perform same-sex marriages, but he is concerned that religious liberties could suffer.

Moore said legal protections will be important for people with strong religious beliefs that God has defined marriage as between one man and one woman.


11:40 a.m.

The Davidson County Clerk’s Office says it will begin issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples at noon.

The office released a statement on Friday after the U.S. Supreme Court overturned Tennessee’s same-sex marriage ban and made it legal in all 50 states. The release says the Tennessee Attorney General has advised clerks around the state that they may begin issuing licenses immediately.

Chris Sanders, executive director of the Tennessee Equality Project, says he is hearing from people that Shelby County has already begun issuing licenses.

Meanwhile, Gov. Bill Haslam told reporters state Attorney General Herbert Slatery will instruct clerks that they should comply with the law, regardless of their personal feelings about same-sex marriage.


11:25 a.m.

Tennessee Democrats were applauding the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling overturning the state’s same-sex marriage ban and making it legal throughout the United States.

U.S. Rep. Jim Cooper issued a statement saying, “”Love and equality win. I’m glad the Supreme Court ruled on the right side of history.”

U.S. Rep. Steve Cohen said in a statement he hopes the ruling puts the issue to rest and “the Tennessee General Assembly does not attempt to thwart or undermine the ruling.”

Tennessee Senate Minority Leader Lee Harris congratulated the couples in the case.

“Many of us have been fighting this battle against discrimination for a long time and put in so much effort,” he said in a statement. “It has been a long, difficult road to get here. And now we can celebrate.”


10:55 a.m.

Matthew Mansell said he was “trying to breathe” after the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in favor of same-sex marriage on Friday.

Mansell and his husband, Johno Espejo (es-PEH’-ho), were two of the plaintiffs in the Tennessee case before the court. The couple married in San Francisco in 2008 before moving to Franklin for Mansell’s job in 2012. They have since moved back to California.

Even though their marriage was recognized in California Mansell said he was relieved by the decision.

“Now we can live anywhere in the U.S. and be a legally married couple, even if I am transferred,” he said. You can’t always pick and choose where you live. My family doesn’t have to worry anymore.”


10:50 a.m.

Tennessee’s Republican Gov. Bill Haslam issued a statement on the U.S. Supreme Court’s Friday ruling in favor of same-sex marriage, promising to comply with the decision.

The ruling overturned Tennessee’s ban and made gay marriage legal everywhere in the United States.

Haslam’s statement said the administration will ensure Tennessee’s departments are able to comply with the ruling “as quickly as possible.”

Meanwhile, the Tennessee Republican Party issued a statement critical of decision and suggesting the fight was not over.

“Tennesseans overwhelmingly voted to define marriage as between one man and one woman. If a change was to be made, it should have been allowed to play out through the democratic process,” party Chairman Ryan Haynes said in a statement. He added that, “the issue is far from settled.”


10:30 a.m.

Most county clerks in Tennessee seemed to be waiting for guidance from the state before issuing marriage certificates to same-sex couples.

The U.S. Supreme Court on Friday ruled that gay marriage was legal everywhere in the United States, overturning Tennessee’s ban.

Sharon Roberson, a deputy county clerk in Maury County, said “The phones have been ringing all morning” with people inquiring about marriage licenses.

The county is waiting to hear from the state how to proceed, she said.

Nashville’s Davidson County Clerk’s Office issued a statement saying state authorities have promised to “provide timely guidance regarding changes to the documents and processes required under state law.”

State Attorney General Herbert Slatery has scheduled a news conference about the ruling for 2 p.m.


10:16 a.m.

Sgt. 1st Class Ijpe deKoe (EE’-pah de-KOO’) was driving home from work and turning on the radio to listen to the news when his mother called to tell him about the Supreme Court’s ruling in favor of same-sex marriage.

“And then the world exploded,” he said in a telephone interview.

“You’re not supposed to answer text messages while driving, but I could see the phone lighting up like Christmas. And it hasn’t stopped.”

DeKoe and husband Thom Kostura, of Memphis, were two of the six plaintiffs challenging Tennessee’s gay marriage ban and anti-recognition laws. They were married in New York in 2011 before deKoe, an active Army reservist, was stationed in Millington.


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