By Katie Fretland, Commercial Appeal
Memphis attorney Maureen T. Holland is in the midst of a historic United States Supreme Court case.
The justices agreed Jan. 16 to decide whether same-sex couples have a right to marry throughout the United States. The cases came from plaintiffs in Kentucky, Michigan, Ohio and Tennessee, including Memphis couple Ijpe DeKoe and Thom Kostura, who are represented by Holland and a team of lawyers.
Tennessee lawmakers approved a statute prohibiting same-sex marriage in 1996. In 2006, voters ratified a state constitutional amendment to say the only legally recognized marriage in the state is between one man and one woman.
Holland and the team are working on briefs addressing two questions: “Does the Fourteenth Amendment require a state to license a marriage between two people of the same sex?”
And “does the Fourteenth Amendment require a state to recognize a marriage between two people of the same sex when their marriage was lawfully licensed and performed out-of-state?”
Holland wanted to be a lawyer beginning when she was about 8 years old growing up in Richmond, Vermont.
“I saw lawyers as having a lot of information,” she said. “They knew their rights. I was intrigued. I really wanted to know my rights, and I really wanted to make things right.”
She attended Vermont Law School, commuting about 150 miles round trip from her home in Burlington to South Royalton. Her daughter, Margot, was 6 weeks old when she started law school, and she had her second daughter, Yvette, during law school.
“I wanted a family,” she said. “I wanted to have children. I wanted to be a lawyer. I always thought I would have my own little firm.”
She and Yvette Holland now comprise a mother-daughter legal team, tackling civil rights and employment cases from their law office on Madison built in 1902. They care for four office cats and three other rescues who live in an insulated cat condo outside.
When Maureen Holland was 50, she got the scales of justice tattooed on her right arm.
“Being a lawyer is very much a part of who I am,” she said. “I am all about justice and equality.”
Holland, now 52, runs 5Ks and was featured in Memphis Health + Fitness Magazine in 2013. She serves as a special judge in the General Sessions Court in Memphis on an as-needed basis.
During the summer of 2013, a group of lawyers in Tennessee along with the National Center for Lesbian Rights began to look at marriage recognition in Tennessee. Nashville attorney Abby Rubenfeld, with whom Holland had worked on employment cases, asked Holland if she might be interested in joining the legal team. Holland agreed and the team filed a lawsuit seeking recognition of the marriages of same-sex couples who had been married out of state.
Holland met DeKoe and Kostura at their loft apartment. “It was exciting,” she said. “We were all on this adventure together, and we had no idea where this challenge was going to take us. I was so proud of them for putting their personal lives into the public.”
Kostura, an artist, and DeKoe, a sergeant first class in the Army Reserve, got married on Aug. 4, 2011, in Bridgehampton, New York, during a three-day leave before DeKoe’s deployment to Afghanistan.
After DeKoe came back from Afghanistan in 2012, the Army stationed him in Millington. He and Kostura live in Memphis. Their marriage is not recognized in Tennessee.
Following the Supreme Court’s decision to hear the case, DeKoe said he is “thrilled that Thom and I will finally have an opportunity to share our story with the court and explain how Tennessee’s discriminatory law hurts us each day.”
The cases are expected to be argued in April with a decision expected in June.