The federal judge hearing their case shocked many in the courtroom when he ordered a trial instead of dismissing the state’s case to uphold the Michigan amendment banning same-sex marriage.
But April DeBoer and Jayne Rowse — the couple at the center of the case — didn’t flinch. They are nurses. They are adoptive mothers, who dealt with the bureaucracy of the state’s foster care and adoption system. They are lesbians, living in a state where more than 2 million people voted to keep them from marrying.
Nothing comes easy.
If they have proved anything in their months of challenging Michigan’s same-sex marriage ban, it’s that they are patient and resolute. Mothers by choice, they’re activists only by default.
As Rowse said Wednesday at a small demonstration outside the federal courthouse, “If you would have told me when I was 18 and living on a farm in Indiana that I’d be up here defending gay marriage, I’d (assume) I’d lost my mind.”
Getting in front of microphones or answering questions about their potential place in history is unnerving to both women. As they’ve made clear in every interview, they’re challenging the state’s law to give their children rights. Those are the rights they’re fighting for with heart and soul.
And their commitment to their three children — each adopted and each with special challenges and risks — has won respect even from the state’s lawyers, who are fighting to preserve the law that makes the women’s work as parents even harder: The marriage ban prevents them from adopting their children as a couple.
In addition to their full-time jobs — Rowse working days, DeBoer working nights — they’re both enrolled in college nursing programs, finishing four-year-degrees that will enhance their credentials and earning ability.
Now that their children are in preschool, they have a couple of days at home, but no real free time. “Most of the time we’re doing homework,” DeBoer told me from her Hazel Park home, before the hearing.
The judge’s decision wasn’t popular with most of the men and women inside the courtroom, a crowd that pleased the judge. Most had stepped inside after a spirited demonstration, with many wearing a T-shirt that said, “Keep calm and marry on.”
This would not be the day. One side wanted to claim the state’s interest in marriage as a vehicle for “responsible procreation.” The other held up the example of DeBoer and Rowse, urging that time is of the essence.
“There are no second-class citizens in the U.S. Constitution,” argued Carole Stanyar, one of the couple’s lawyers, who pointed out, “April DeBoer is a ‘legal stranger’ to two of her children,” unrecognized as a parent by the law.
Outside the courtroom, Christine Weick held a red vinyl 16-square-foot sign. She ordered it from BuildASign.com eight months ago for $60 plus shipping. “God draws a line on gay marriage,” it said in large letters, with a Biblical citation.
“People say I shouldn’t judge, but I tell them, ‘The Bible has already judged you. Better for me to do it than for you to fall into the hands of an angry God,’ ” she said. Weick stood by herself on the sidewalk outside the courtroom.
“It’s very frustrating that I’m the only one out here,” she said.
Laura Berman’s column runs Tuesday and Thursday