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article imageTennessee gay couple's date with history

By Chantal Valery (AFP)     Apr 26, 2015 in World

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 Dutch-born US 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.

Ijpe DeKoe signs posters for supporters
Ijpe DeKoe signs posters for supporters
Loic Hofstedt, AFP/File

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 -

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.

Protesters hold a pro-gay rights flag outside the US Supreme Court on April 25  2015
Protesters hold a pro-gay rights flag outside the US Supreme Court on April 25, 2015
Paul J. Richards, AFP

"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-year-old 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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