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Same-Sex Couples in Tenn. Get Attorney’s Fees

NASHVILLE (CN) - A federal judge awarded three same-sex couples in Tennessee $1.9 million in attorney's fees following the Supreme Court's landmark gay marriage ruling last year.

In June 2015, the U.S. Supreme Court struck down state laws banning gay marriage in its landmark Obergefell v. Hodges ruling.

The high court found 5-4 that marrying is a civil right for all people, regardless of gender.

"The limitation of marriage to opposite-sex couples may long have seemed natural and just, but its inconsistency with the central meaning of the fundamental right to marry is now manifest," the majority opinion penned by Justice Anthony Kennedy said. "With that knowledge must come the recognition that laws excluding same-sex couples from the marriage right impose stigma and injury of the kind prohibited by our basic charter."

The constitutional challenge to state bans on same-sex marriage was headed up by James Obergefell and John Arthur in Ohio, but three couples from Tennessee were named as plaintiffs in a consolidated case: Valeria Tanco and Sophie Jesty, Ijpe DeKoe and Thomas Kostura, and Johno Espejo and Matthew Mansell.

After last year's landmark ruling in favor of same-sex marriage, the Tennessee couples sought $2.3 million in attorney's fees, based on 5,974 hours of work.

Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam and other state officials - the named defendants in the original Tennessee lawsuit, before it was consolidated with Obergefell - opposed the $2.3 million request, making arguments for "overstaffing and duplication of effort," court records show.

On Friday, U.S. District Judge Aleta Trauger granted the same-sex couples $1.9 million in attorney fees based on a 15 percent reduction from the requested amount.

"Given the objections recognized by the court herein as having merit, including duplication of effort, the court finds that some reduction is appropriate," the judge wrote. "While the court will not grant a reduction of the proportion sought by the defendants - as doing so would not fully compensate the plaintiffs - the court finds that a 15 percent across-the-board reduction in the requested fees is appropriate."

The attorney's fees will be shared by Abby Rubenfeld, Maureen Holland, Regina Lambert, the National Center for Lesbian Rights, Sherrard & Roe PLC, and Ropes & Gray LLP, according to the ruling.

Trauger also awarded the plaintiffs $52,000 in costs and expenses.

"The results obtained in this case were superb and far-reaching. As the prevailing party, the plaintiffs will, therefore, be rewarded a significant portion of their requested reasonable attorney's fees and expenses under Section 1988," the judge wrote.

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