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Washington — It was a near-miss vehicle accident on a two-lane country road four years ago that brought Michigan into the landmark same-sex case set for historic arguments before the nation's highest court Tuesday.

A potentially devastating accident on a snowy Ohio road in February 2011 left April DeBoer and Jayne Rowse so shaken they wondered what would have happened to their children had the two Hazel Park nurses been injured or killed.

"The pickup truck was driving about 55 mph in our lane and was coming straight at us," recalled DeBoer. "That kind of shook us up."

DeBoer and Rowse quickly learned they had no legal rights to each other's children.

Thus began a four-year battle to challenge Michigan's same-sex marriage ban and other legal rights for gay and lesbian couples.

It culminates Tuesday before the nation's High Court and if they are successful, it could mean that by the end of June, when the nine justices are expected to announce their decision, gay marriage bans could fall in the last of the states that don't allow it. It's legal in 37 states.

DeBoer and Rowse are hoping the U.S. Supreme Court will side with them after oral arguments in gay marriage cases from Michigan, Ohio, Kentucky and Tennessee.

The court will decide two questions on the 14th Amendment: Is a state obligated under the 14th Amendment to grant a marriage license between two people of the same sex? And is a state required to recognize a marriage between two people of the same sex when it was a marriage legally recognized and performed in another state?

Michigan and Kentucky have marriage equality cases. Kentucky, Ohio and Tennesse have recognition cases, involving lawsuits seeking to have the marriages of same-sex couples legally married elsewhere recognized.

At a reception for the two women at the Embassy Suites in Washington, supporters of same-sex marriage were confident they would prevail.

"This is about equal justice and protection under the law," U.S. Rep. Debbie Dingell, D-Dearborn, said at a reception Monday afternoon.

Added Hollywood celebrity attorney Gloria Allred: "We're never going to stop until we win this battle."

In Lansing on Monday night, about 100 gay marriage supporters gathered for a Capitol vigil.

Among those attending the vigil was former state Rep. Lorence Wenke of Kalamazoo, who said he has participated in several pro-gay rights events in recent weeks and plans to be in Washington, D.C., in late June for the Supreme Court ruling.

"I'm still a gay rights advocate," said Wenke, who switched from Republican to Libertarian for an unsuccessful state Senate run in November. "I can't give it up and I don't want to give it up. It has been an exciting and challenging issue for the whole nation. I hope the Supreme Court finally puts it to rest."

"This marks the capstone of almost a decade-long struggle for same-sex equality in our country,"said Bill Greene, interim executive director of Equality Michigan, an organization that advocates for LGBT rights. "People are seeing that this is the right thing to do."

John Arthurs, 53, said he hopes the justices determine that gays and lesbians should have the same to marry under the law as heterosexuals.

"We have more important things to do in this country than decide who can have abortions and who you can marry," said Arthurs, a ceramics artist who recently moved to East Lansing from Chicago.

On Tuesday, both sides of the gay marriage issue will present oral arguments during a 21/2hour hearing that is expected to decide the issue "once and for all," say observers of the case.

"Our rights are being ignored. Our kids' rights are being ignored," Rowse said. "It only harms them by not treating us equally."

DeBoer and Rowse said Monday their challenge is not a religion issue.

"This is a legal issue ... equal protection under the law," DeBoer said Monday during an interview with The Detroit News in Washington. "This is about legal protection."

Opponents see it differently.

Bill Johnson of the American Decency Association in Fremont, Michigan, spoke against judges who discard the "people's will."

"Our great concern is that (God) curses a nation who turns its back upon the Lord. Those of us here, we believe there's even due sense for God to set his wrath upon America," said Johnson, a retired teacher and former president of the American Family Association. "God help us all."

Others rallying outside the Supreme Court urged Congress to "restrain the judges" by altering the jurisdiction of all federal courts, so they no longer may consider marriage issues.

They called on justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Elena Kagan to recuse themselves from the case before the Supreme Court because both have officiated at same-sex weddings.

Mark Gurley, Michigan director for the advocacy group Oak Initiative, unfurled a banner that read, "Homosexuality is a behavior, not a civil right."

"To the Supreme Court justices in the building behind me: What do you want your legacy to look like?" he said. "Do not land on the wrong side of history with this decision. Follow the United States Constitution, and not your political leanings."

Birmingham residents Frank Colasonti Jr. and his husband, James Ryder, who were one of the 300-plus same-sex couples who married in March 2014, came to support DeBoer and Rowse. They were wed just hours after U.S. District Judge Bernard Friedman struck down Michigan's gay marriage ban, approved by voters in 2004.

"We wanted to show our support for April and Jayne," Colasonti said Monday. "We wanted to buoy the legal team."

The couple, numbers 17 and 18 in line to get into the court, started their marathon wait Friday and have slept in lawn chairs around the clock.

Also waiting outside the court was Christine Weick, who protested during the eight-day trial in March 2014, carrying a sign voicing her opposition to same-sex marriage.

Weick of Grand Rapids said she is doing God's work and that she plans to be outside the Supreme Court for the next 60 days from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. protesting against the legalization of gay marriage.

"Warning! God draws a line on GAY MARRIAGE ... WOE to those who cross it!" read Weick's red and white sign.

DeBoer and Rowse's case started as a challenge to Michigan's adoption rules, which banned the women from adopting each other's children because they are lesbian and the state's adoption code does not allow co-adoption by gay and lesbian parents. They later amended their lawsuit to challenge Michigan's gay marriage ban.

Last March, Friedman ruled after a nearly two-week trial that Michigan's gay marriage ban is unconstitutional. Friedman's ruling was appealed by the state of Michigan. In November, the U.S. 6th Circuit Court of Appeals.

bwilliams@detroitnews.com

(313) 222-2027

Staff Writers David Shepardson, Melissa Nann Burke, Chad Livengood and Gary Heinlein contributed.

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