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April DeBoer and Jayne Rouse honored at reception hosted by U.S. Rep. Debbie Dingell. Speakers include House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer and Sen. Debbie Stabenow.

Washington — Members of Michigan's Democratic congressional delegation and supporters of April DeBoer and Jayne Rowse greeted the Hazel Park nurses with thunderous applause Tuesday afternoon at a reception on Capitol Hill following oral arguments in their historic Supreme Court gay-marriage case.

"Aren't you proud of these wonderful women for their incredible courage?" U.S. Sen. Debbie Stabenow said, drawing another round of applause.

"We're here to celebrate a very important moment for our country, and we're proud that Michigan is taking the lead."

DeBoer and Rowse stood side by side, each with an arm around the other, smiling and nodding in thanks. DeBoer wiped away tears behind her glasses.

They told their story of deciding to challenge the adoption code in Michigan — a case that evolved into challenging the state's 2004 voter-approved ban on gay marriage.

"It seemed like a little undertaking at the time. It didn't seem overwhelming," Rowse said. "Obviously we've won a few, lost one, and hopefully we're going to win the big one and bring it home to Michigan."

The women thanked their lawyers, as well as students from the University of Michigan and Yale law schools who helped with the case. They credited the many "grassroots" supporters who contributed money to pay for travel and court costs.

The reception was hosted by U.S. Rep. Debbie Dingell, a Dearborn Democrat who first met Rowse when, as a nurse, she treated former Rep. John Dingell — Debbie's husband — during a trip to the emergency room.

As Debbie Dingell got to know Rowse and DeBoer, she learned of their concerns about being unable to adopt one another's children if something happened to one of them.

"That's when you realize that these are just human beings who are a family unit that love each other," Dingell said in an interview. "That's why I wanted my colleagues to meet them: Because they're just two of the most real people. They have the biggest hearts. They've adopted four kids and they're thinking about adopting a fifth."

U.S. Sen. Tammy Baldwin, D-Wisconsin, praised the couple for choosing to litigate the case and "opening up your family so that all of us can know you."

"We all stand on your shoulders as this movement progresses,'" said Baldwin, the first lesbian to serve openly in the Senate.

Rep. Steny Hoyer, the whip of the House Democratic Caucus, told the couple he hopes the Supreme Court will "do the right thing."

"But whether they do the right thing or not, it is inevitable that you will be treated equally in this country under our constitution," said Hoyer, D-Maryland.

"Whether it happens in the next few months or it happens some time thereafter, we're going to keep working until we treat all our citizens — as Dr. Martin Luther King said — based on the content of their character."

U.S. Sen. Gary Peters of Bloomfield Township and Reps. Sander Levin of Royal Oak and Dan Kildee of Flint Township also attended the reception. All are Democrats

mburke@detroitnews.com

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