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'Proudest Day': Lesbian Couple Celebrates as Their Case Heads to Supreme Court

April DeBoer and Jayne Rowse reacted with joy Friday after the U.S. Supreme Court agreed to hear their challenge to Michigan's ban on gay marriage.

A lesbian couple whose fight against Michigan's gay marriage ban was taken up by the U.S. Supreme Court on Friday said they were overwhelmed but emboldened at the chance to play a part in a historic legal decision.

"This is probably the proudest day of my lesbian life," Jayne Rowse said, standing beside her partner, April DeBoer. "We’re in awe that this day has happened."

DeBoer and Rowse were reacting to the news, announced a couple hours earlier, that the high court had agreed to finally address the question whether the Constitution allows states to ban same-sex marriage.

Specifically, the court said it would decide whether states can refuse to issue same sex-marriage licenses and whether they can refuse to recognize same-sex marriages legally performed elsewhere. The case will be argued in late April and a decision should come down by June.

Rowse, 50, and De Boer, 43, the parents of four adopted children, looked like unlikely torch-bearers, struggling to describe their emotions and admitting they didn't set out to be seen as legal warriors. "It's hard to think of us as inspiration for other couples," DeBoer said. She added, "We just saw something that was wrong and we decided we needed to make it right."

The hospital nurses from Hazel Park, Michigan, entered the legal fray in January 2012, when they challenged Michigan adoption laws that did not allow them to both be parents to their special-needs children. They later added a challenge to a provision in the state constitution, adopted by voters in 2004, that banned same-sex marriage.

Last March, a federal district court judge, Bernard Friedman, declared the ban unconstitutional, finding that it "discriminates against same-sex couples in violation of the Equal Protection Clause because the provision does not advance any conceivable legitimate state interest." But in November, a three-judge panel of the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Cincinnati reversed the ruling, along with cases from Ohio, Kentucky and Tennessee, finding that the state had legitimate reasons for maintaining the traditional definition of marriage. The appeals court also said it would be better "to allow change through the customary political processes" instead of the courts. DeBoer and Rowse were among couples from all four states that sought Supreme Court intervention.

In their news conference, someone asked DeBoer and Rowse if they were planning a wedding yet. They said no. "We've had discussions about marriage and getting married but we've not set a date," DeBoer said. "We still have a long road ahead of us and a long fight ahead of us."



— Pete Williams, Erin McClam and Jon Schuppe