They Were Just Trying To Protect Their Kids, But This Couple Won Marriage Equality

06/26/2015 04:45 pm ET | Updated Jun 26, 2015

April DeBoer and Jayne Rowse are one of the same-sex couples behind the Supreme Court's historic ruling that all 50 states must allow gay marriage. But the two Michigan nurses barely thought about what they're going to do for their own wedding.

"I do believe we have a wedding to plan and some kids to adopt," DeBoer said, after learning of their victory Friday.

She and Rowse were at a live-streamed gathering in Ann Arbor, Michigan, with their lawyers and supporters, celebrating as other couples across the state headed to county clerks' offices to obtain marriage licenses.

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Jayne Rowse (left) and April DeBoer celebrate the Supreme Court's ruling on June 26, 2015, in Ann Arbor, Michigan. (Photo: Bill Pugliano/Getty Images)

The two women, who started their legal battle in 2011, ultimately joined plaintiffs from Ohio, Tennessee and Kentucky in the combined case, now known as Obergefell v. Hodges, that the Supreme Court heard. Other couples were fighting to have their home states recognize marriages performed elsewhere. DeBoer and Rowse, however, were originally seeking changes to state adoption laws.

Four years ago, the couple met attorney Dana Nessel while trying to prepare wills that would protect their children. Michigan law doesn't allow adoption by two same-sex parents, so each of DeBoer and Rowse's four kids has only one legally recognized parent. Each woman has adopted two of their four children, who are all age 6 or younger.

When they filed their lawsuit, U.S. District Judge Bernard Friedman encouraged them to expand the case to challenge the constitutionality of Michigan’s gay marriage ban. They did, and he ruled in their favor in 2014. Friedman, who had been appointed by President Ronald Reagan, reportedly cried as he told the Detroit News on Friday that he had been praying for the Supreme Court's decision.

“We never could have in a million years anticipated that this case ... would become a marriage case at all, let alone the seminal marriage case,” Nessel said.

The Supreme Court's majority opinion notes that protecting children is a crucial element of the case for same-sex marriage. "April DeBoer and Jayne Rowse now ask whether Michigan may continue to deny them the certainty and stability all mothers desire to protect their children, and for them and their children the childhood years will pass all too soon," it says.

Though their kids have always been the primary concern, that's not to say that DeBoer and Rowse aren't looking forward to the wedding. So are Ryanne, Rylee, Jacob and Nolan, who have been hearing about marriage for years. Ryanne, 5, is eager to dress up like a princess. Rylee, 2, wants to be the flower girl, though DeBoer jokingly worried that she will throw flowers at the guests.

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April DeBoer (center), Jayne Rowse and their four children. (Photo courtesy of the family)

“To my beautiful children, we did this for you,” DeBoer said.

Polls show that public opinion has shifted in favor of marriage equality since the voters passed Michigan's same-sex marriage ban in 2004. In a statement Friday, Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder (R) urged the state to “focus on the values we share” and “respect the judicial process.”

“Our state government will follow the law and our state agencies will make the necessary changes to ensure that we will fully comply,” Snyder said. “As Michiganders we should move forward positively, embracing our state’s diversity and striving to treat everyone with the respect and dignity they deserve.”

The victory for marriage equality does not end the debate over lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender rights in Michigan, though, where it is still legal to fire someone based on sexual orientation and gender identity. Earlier this month, the governor signed a law that allows publicly funded, faith-based adoption agencies to cite religious beliefs as a reason to deny services to gay couples and others. And last week, a Republican state legislator introduced a bill that would require a member of the clergy to sign off on all marriages -- a potential hardship for same-sex couples.

But on Friday, county clerks in Michigan performed gay wedding ceremonies with gusto.

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Ann Sorrell (left), 78, and Marge Eide, 77, who have been a couple for 43 years, embrace after exchanging vows in Ann Arbor, Michigan, on June 26, 2015. (AP Photo/Paul Sancya)

DeBoer and Rowse hope their own wedding will take place before the end of the summer.

Nessel described her clients-turned-friends as “ordinary people who are all at once also extraordinary and who could not have represented this case or this cause with any more dignity -- or any more humor, really -- than anyone else that I know.”

The attorney not only scored a win for her clients, but also will benefit personally from the Supreme Court's decision. Speaking Friday, she thanked her two sons for often going without her presence as she fought for other kids and she thanked fiancée Alanna Maguire. Nessel proposed in April, standing on a stepstool outside the court on the afternoon that the justices heard arguments in the marriage case.

“Meeting your future same-sex spouse during your fight for same-sex marriage is kind of the most awesome story ever,” Nessel said.

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