Tennessee Family Makes History

By Julissa Catalan


Last month, Emilia Maria Jesty made history by being the first baby born in Tennessee to have a woman listed on the birth certificate as her “father.”

Up until a few days prior to baby Emilia’s birth, her parent’s marital status was up in the air, according to a Nashville court. Sophy Jesty and Valeria Tanco were married in New York, where same-gender marriage is legal, but then they moved to Tennessee—where it is not.

The court issued a preliminary injunction which forced the state to honor their marriage since Tanco’s mid-March due date was fast approaching. The state appealed to the 6th Circuit Court of Appeals.

Emilia’s parents say they are aware that this is a preliminary ruling, and that if a court reverses the order, the birth certificate would be void and a new one without Jesty listed as the father would be reissued.

Nevertheless, Jesty said the preliminary court order “gives me strength.”

Tanco and Jesty first became the lead plaintiffs in the lawsuit when they were approached last year by attorney Regina Lambert—a Knoxville, Tennessee lawyer and National Center for Lesbian Rights volunteer.

The advocacy group, which relies on lawyers and volunteers to scout cases, narrowed in on Tennessee for its large population of conservatives.

Lambert immediately thought of Tanco and Jesty, who she had met through mutual friends. “You want someone who is in a stable, good relationship,” Lambert said. “I liked the fact that they were homeowners, too.” She admits thinking the public would also identify with them since they were “likeable” and both professors of veterinary medicine at the University of Tennessee.

At the time Tanco had only become pregnant two months prior via artificial insemination.

Tanco was immediately on board, but Jesty admitted having some reservations. After two days of deliberating, the couple decided to move forward with Lambert. “This was an opportunity to make a difference,” Jesty said. “How do you turn away from something like that”

The suit was filed in October, along with two male same-gender couples.

In the end, the pregnancy worked in their favor as it helped expedite the case, which up until then had remained in a pending status. Emilia was born on March 27th, two days after the court appealed the preliminary ruling.

Following her birth, the Knoxville hospital in which she was delivered had a hard time believing it was legal to list Jesty as the father. It took several hours of Lambert serving as a liaison between the hospital and the Nashville health department for them to finally list Jesty on the birth certificate.

A health department official confirmed that Emilia was the first Tennessee baby to have a woman listed as her father.

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