'Emotional day' for Mich. couple after long fight

Oralandar Brand-Williams
The Detroit News

April DeBoer gives her remarks along with her partner Jayne Rowse during the press conference.

Ann Arbor — April DeBoer and Jayne Rowse of Hazel Park, the couple who were at ground zero of the Supreme Court challenge to Michigan's same-sex marriage ban, cried and embraced as they learned, with the rest of America, that gay unions are the new law of the land.

"It's an emotional day for us ... we never thought this day was going to come," DeBoer said.

Rowse thanked the U.S. Supreme Court justices and said through tears: "I wish my sister was here." DeBoer and Rowse watched televised coverage of the high court's highly anticipated decision in Ann Arbor, surrounded by media and supporters.

Rowse called the moment she learned she could marry DeBoer "surreal."

The mood in Braun Court was one of celebration and exuberance as about 250 supporters and other same-sex couples danced, clapped and hugged.

DeBoer and Rowse, both nurses, became the faces of the movement to make same-sex marriage legal in Michigan after going to court four years ago, seeking the right to adopt each other's children.

That legal fight eventually morphed into a challenge to Michigan's constitutional ban on same-sex unions, approved by state voters in 2004.

DeBoer said she and Rowse would like U.S. Judge Bernard Friedman to marry them. His response: "Absolutely."

It was Friedman, 71, who issued the March 2014 ruling that Michigan's constitutional ban on gay marriage was illegal. The state appealed.

"It seems very right to have him be the one to perform the ceremony," DeBoer said. They said their children are ready to walk down the aisle with them.

While some couples rushed to altars or clerk's offices immediately Friday, DeBoer and Rowse plan to wait, probably until late summer or early fall. "We need a venue enough to fit all of you," DeBoer told supporters, who chanted "thank you" to the couple as they came out for a news conference.

DeBoer said the Supreme Court, in upholding Friedman's decision, "is on the right side of history," and said she is happy her children won't be discriminated against and made to feel like "second-class" citizens.

She said she and Rowse are adopting a fifth child, an infant daughter named Kennedy. They said her name is not a nod to Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy, who wrote the majority opinion and provided the crucial fifth vote that struck down same-sex marriage bans nationwide.

Attorney Dana Nessel, who took up the couple's cause, said the road to the High Court and victory was paved with "heartache and hardships." Nessel called the women's legal battles to adopt and marry "an amazing journey."

Added attorney Carole Stanyar, another member of DeBoer's and Rowse's legal team: "No part of this has been easy."

At a later rally, Stanyar said the couple and their legal team persevered despite naysayers who said "it was too soon" to challenge the state's gay marriage ban, that Michigan was not the right place to do it, and that DeBoer and Rowse weren't the right couple for it.

"This is the right time. We were tired of waiting and Michigan is exactly the right place," said Stanyar.

Ken Mogill, another lawyer on the DeBoer and Rowse legal team, said the case "exposed the absurdity" of discrimination against gay marriage.

While DeBoer and Rowse didn't have a wedding Friday, they attended one. Marge Eide, 77, and Ann Sorrell, 78, each said "I do" under a floral-decorated archway in front of about 150 people in Braun Court.

They were among about 10 couples who tied the knot during the Ann Arbor celebration.

"I didn't think it was possible but our young friends showed us the way," said Eide, standing next to Sorrell as cameras and iPhones clicked away. "We gradually began to see the meaning of a piece of paper."


Associated Press contributed