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The nation's highest court announced Friday it will hear a lawsuit challenging Michigan's ban on gay marriage.

The U.S. Supreme Court also will review similar cases from Kentucky, Ohio and Tennessee.

The Michigan case was brought by Hazel Park residents April DeBoer and Jayne Rowse in 2012 challenging the four-year state ban on same-sex marriage. DeBoer and Rowse, both nurses, initially brought the lawsuit against Michigan's adoption code, which bans same-sex couples from co-adoption. DeBoer and Rowse want to adopt each other's special-needs children.

"This case has been a long time coming," Dana Nessel, the couple's co-counsel, said Friday at a news conference at Affirmations in Ferndale about the case and the upcoming arguments before the court.

"It's been a long road and journey but hopefully soon we'll know that it's worth the wait and we very much hope that when our case is heard and when there is a decision by the Supreme Court that marriage equality will be the law of the land not just here in Michigan but for all 50 states."

DeBoer and Rowse held hands and were cheered by supporters and members of the National Marriage Challenge as they talked about the case.

A "public celebration" is planned at 7:30 tonight in Ann Arbor for the couple.

DeBoer said the case is about righting a wrong.

"We saw something wrong and we wanted to make it right," DeBoer said. "Stand up for what you believe cause that's what we are doing."

The women said they have not yet set a wedding date even though they will have their day in the country's highest court.

"We have a long road ahead of us. A long fight ahead of us," DeBoer said.

Rowse added: "Our children are too young to get it but they know marriage is important to us."

Arguments are scheduled for sometime on April 27, 28 or 29, said Carole Stanyar, the couple's co-counsel who could end up arguing the case before the court.

According to the court's filing, it will decide two questions:

Does the Fourteenth Amendment require a state to license a marriage between two people of the same sex?

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?

The court allotted 90 minutes for oral arguments on the first question and one hour on the second. All briefs and rebuttals are due by April 17 with a decision likely by late June.

The couple's attorneys will share 45 minutes of argument time with lawyers arguing for the plaintiffs in the Kentucky case. The state of Michigan attorneys will share the same amount of time with the state of Kentucky lawyers.

Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette said: "This case involves people of good will, sincerely motivated, on both sides. All of Michigan's voters, as well as the citizens of our nation, will be well served by the court's decision to decide this case and resolve such an important issue.

"Therefore, I am pleased that the Supreme Court has chosen to review this case, so that important issues involving the fundamental institution of marriage, our Constitution and the rights of voters will be decided."

Local attorney Amanda Shelton, who hopes to legally marry her wife, Kay Shelton, also applauded the court's decision to take up the Michigan case.

"I'm so, so thrilled," Shelton said Friday. "I think the wave is so strong in our favor. Our case is the only one to have a trial (and) it just screamed for a Supreme Court review."

The decision comes on the heels of Thursday's court decision to legalize 323 same-sex marriages performed in Michigan in March between the time a judge struck down the state's voter-approved ban and a stay was issued.

Shelton added, "I am happy for my clients and myself personally."

Barb Byrum, clerk in Ingham County, where marriage licenses were issued to same-sex couples March 22 after the ruling in the DeBoer case in March, said Friday's announcement by the U.S. Supreme Court "is very encouraging and I am optimistic that the court will rule in favor of equality."

"I look forward to the day when all loving married couples receive equal recognition under the law," Byrum said Friday. "This is a critical step forward in our fight to secure the freedom to marry for all Michiganders."

Gay marriage supporters also hailed the court decision.

"We are thrilled with the Supreme Court's decision today," said Gina Calcagno, campaign manager for Michigan for Marriage. "The country is ready for national resolution on this issue. We've heard from countless individuals — families, faith leaders, business owners, elected officials, and even our own courts — it's time for marriage equality, for Michigan, and for the United States."

Michigan Catholic Conference President and CEO Paul A. Long said his organization hopes the court will decide to define marriage in its traditional terms.

"This is a significant moment for the nation's highest court to move toward settling one of the most important societal questions in recent history," Long said. "Marriage is the foundation for a just society; it is the only institution that unites children with their mother and father together.

"For the sake of the common good, and to secure the fundamental building block for all of humanity, we pray the Supreme Court will inevitably find traditional marriage amendments constitutional both in Michigan and throughout the nation."

Last March, U.S. District Judge Bernard Friedman ruled the state's gay marriage ban is unconstitutional. The ruling was appealed within hours by the state of Michigan to the U.S. Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals where arguments were heard in August. The circuit court ruled in November to uphold Michigan's same-sex marriage ban, along with those in Ohio, Kentucky and Tennessee.

Same-sex marriage is legal in 36 states.

"With our 6th federal circuit reserving Federal District Judge Bernard Friedman's decision holding the ban on same-sex marriage unconstitutional, it is time for the U.S. Supreme Court to accept the case for a definitive determination of that issue," said Lawrence Dubin, a professor for the University of Detroit Mercy School of Law. "Public opinion has shifted greatly, making this an issue that needs to be resolved due to the conflicting federal law that now exists."

Carl Tobias, a professor for the University of Richmond (Virginia) who has followed the gay marriage legal battles, said he thinks the decision by the justices will be 5-4 favoring same-sex marriage for Michigan, Ohio, Kentucky and Tennessee.

bwilliams@detroitnews.com

(313) 222-2027

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