Local same-sex couple sues state to have their marriage recognized

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wwltv.com

Posted on September 20, 2013 at 10:07 PM

Updated Friday, Sep 20 at 10:20 PM

Tania Dall / Eyewitness News
Email: tdall@wwltv.com | Twitter: @taniadall

NEW ORLEANS -- A local same-sex couple is suing the State of Louisiana claiming it is violating their rights. They say they were legally wed in Iowa and, given the recent announcements from the IRS and Labor Department, should have the same rights as married couples here.

"It was a gorgeous day. We were over a pond on the dock," said Derek Pinton, describing the autumn day he exchanged vows with his partner, Jon Robicheaux.

The couple tied the knot a year ago at a ceremony unfolding hundreds of miles away from home in Iowa, one of a 13 states and the District of Columbia where same-sex marriage is legal.

"We don't live as separate people, we live as a relationship, and we're just looking for those kinds of rights," said Pinton.

Together for seven years, the New Orleans couple is fighting what they believe is a civil rights battle. They've filed a 17-page lawsuit against Attorney General Buddy Caldwell, wanting their out-of-state marriage recognized in Louisiana.

"We've been told that it's not time in Louisiana, and that because we're in the South, or because we're a blue city in a red state, or however you want to put it, that we should just wait," said Pinton.

But the couple aren't willing to wait. A recent trip to the emergency room was a reminder of their stark reality. Derek is a paramedic and Jon is a bartender. Despite being legally married out-of-state, current state law means Jon can't access Derek's health insurance benefits.

Their hope is that June's Supreme Court ruling striking down a section of the Federal Defense of Marriage Act (defining marriage as a union between a man and woman) will help fuel their fight.

"This is playing out all over the country; this is not just in Louisiana. There are many states that have these bans," said Chris Otten with Forum for Equality. The organization is also working to ensure same-sex couples have equal rights.

"We're focusing on ways to get the community together to figure out if we can solve some of these problems legislatively, but we're also looking at involving the courts where appropriate," said Otten.

So do Derek and Jon stand a chance in court? Loyola Law professor Monica Wallace says they have an uphill battle ahead.

"The Supreme Court struck down one clause of the Federal Defense of Marriage Act, but did not strike down the clause that allows states to make the determination whether they will recognize other states marriages," said Wallace.

Eyewitness News reached out to Attorney General Caldwell for a comment on the lawsuit filed against him. A spokesman for the AG says his office doesn't comment on pending litigation.


 

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