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Moms fighting for joint adoption in Michigan end up challenging gay marriage ban

Lester Graham
Michigan Radio

Nolan, Ryanne, and Jacob were excited about showing me their toys when I visited the home of Jayne Rowse and April DeBoer.

These three little kids have no idea that their moms are in the middle of one of the most closely watched federal court cases in Michigan.

Rowse, who is the legal parent of Nolan and Jacob, and DeBoer, who is Ryanne’s legal parent, have been raising the kids together -- jointly sharing their lives and responsibilities.

The two nurses wanted to jointly adopt their kids to better protect their futures.

"This has never been about us getting married. This has been about our rights and our children's rights and protecting them." - April DeBoer.

The State of Michigan argued, no way. They can’t. They’re not married.

Their case has become the most anticipated development in Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender people’s rights in Michigan. It challenges the state’s constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage.

DeBoer and Rowse explained they had no intention to challenge the gay marriage ban. Jayne Rowse says that’s something U.S. District Judge Bernard Friedman suggested.

“Judge Friedman ... basically looked at the State and said, ‘so, this hinges on marriage?’  And the State said yes.  And he said, ‘so, what it sounds like to me is you guys need to challenge the marriage amendment.’ And we all kind of looked at each other and went, ‘he did not just suggest we challenge gay marriage?’ And, he did,” Rowse said.

Jayne Rowse and April DeBoer say they talked about it. They talked to their lawyers. Here they are, both nurses, both going to school, and suddenly they find themselves in the middle of the most controversial issue in the LGBT community.

“We were not looking for the marriage amendment fight. This has never been about us getting married,” DeBoer explained. “This has been about our rights and our children’s rights and protecting them.”

Credit Lester Graham / Michigan Radio
Michigan Radio

DeBoer and Rowse say the case got a lot more attention, good and bad, when it shifted from being about the kids to being about marriage.

“This is about the kids; people see it as about the kids. When you start talking about the marriage amendment, it’s more about our relationship and what we want, and that gets a little bit scarier because people are a little more opinionated about a marriage, a gay marriage, than they are about children having two parents,” DeBoer said.

And as the case got headlines around the state, people started to approach them - people in grocery store, or out in the community who would tell them they supported what they were doing.

“You know, one of the things we discovered when we started this was how many people did not know that we couldn’t jointly adopt. And once we explained it to them, then they were outraged. You know, they were like, ‘I can’t understand why,’ and that in this day and age that’s just dumb,” Rowse said.

But not everyone felt that way. They’ve also run into people who tell them they’re wrong. They have no business trying to upset traditional marriage.

"It's hard to explain to them we're not looking for special rights, we're looking for equal rights that you already have and you take for granted." - Jayne Rowse

“People say well, you’re looking for special rights. It’s hard to explain to them we’re not looking for special rights, we’re looking for equal rights that you already have and you take for granted,” Rowse said.

And April DeBoer says the anger some people direct at them is surprising.

“Why are so many people so involved in denying us things. You know? We don’t care. We don’t care what you do. We don’t care what you do with your life. We don’t care what you do in your bedroom. Why do you care so much about what we do? I don’t get it,” DeBoer said.

So the two who never dreamed they’d be in the center of an LGBT civil rights struggle are trying to keep things normal.

They’re just working to be good moms to their kids.

Trying to make sure their kids are protected. That’s all they see.

They don’t understand why the State of Michigan is trying to make it impossible.

The next hearing of their case is October 16th. Listen to the audio clip below to hear how the DeBoer-Rowse attorney, Dana Nessel, thinks the case might go.

Credit Lester Graham / Michigan Radio
Michigan Radio
Dana Nessel is an attorney helping DeBoer and Rowse in their case challenging Michigan's gay marriage ban.

Lester Graham reports for The Environment Report. He has reported on public policy, politics, and issues regarding race and gender inequity. He was previously with The Environment Report at Michigan Public from 1998-2010.
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