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Gay Marriage Plaintiffs Receive Warm Reception on Capitol Hill

DeBoer, left, and Rowse, right, are plaintiffs in Michigan's same-sex marriage case. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)
DeBoer, left, and Rowse, right, are plaintiffs in Michigan's same-sex marriage case. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)

After wrapping up two-and-a-half hours of same-sex marriage arguments at the Supreme Court, two plaintiffs and a number of advocates crossed First Street to head to Capitol Hill.  

Rep. Debbie Dingell, D-Mich., hosted a packed reception Tuesday afternoon welcoming Michigan residents April DeBoer and Jayne Rowse to the Longworth House Office Building. The women are plaintiffs in the case challenging Michigan’s ban on same-sex marriage, which was one of the four consolidated cases before the Supreme Court. “This is so overwhelming,” said Rowse, with tears in her eyes as she addressed the roughly 100 people gathered in the House Agriculture Committee room. She described how they started litigation after she and DeBoer became concerned that should something happen to one of them, the other partner may not have custody over their four children. “That was just a thought we could not bear.”  

Four years later, they found themselves at the Supreme Court, and later on Capitol Hill, surrounded by lawmakers, staffers and advocates. Democrats including House Minority Whip Steny H. Hoyer of Maryland and members of the Michigan delegation stopped by the reception to congratulate the two plaintiffs and express their solidarity.  

“They’re my friends,” Dingell said, explaining she first met Rowse, a nurse, when she cared for Dingell’s husband, former Rep. John D. Dingell, D-Mich., when he was in the hospital.  

“I know what really wonderful human beings they are,” Dingell continued. “And sometimes cases like this take on these mammoth proportions and people don’t realize the humanness of the two human beings that are involved here, or the fact that all they wanted to do, if anything happened, was stay a family unit.”  

A number of Democratic lawmakers from the Congressional LGBT Equality Caucus also packed the room. Rep. Mark Takano, D-Calif., who is gay, echoed Dingell’s comment that the plaintiffs bring a human element to the divisive cases.  

Takano was also one of several members of Congress at the Supreme Court Tuesday, and he said he sat in the courtroom for the first question.  

“The atmosphere was one of, I think, intense attention on what the attorneys were saying and arguing,” Takano said of his first time in the high court. (He also said he didn’t realize you had to pay a quarter to lock up his cell phone, so he borrowed one from Rep. Joseph P. Kennedy III, D-Mass., and joked, “I figure a Kennedy has quarters to spare.”)  

For Takano and the other gay lawmakers at the reception, Rowse and DeBoer personified their own struggles for equality.  

“Part of the evolution of the LGBT rights movement started in individual rights with Harvey Milk encouraging us all to come out, come out wherever you are,” said Sen. Tammy Baldwin, D-Wis., the first openly gay person to be elected to the Senate. “And we saw attitudes change, laws change, as people got to know us as individuals. But it took a while for us to start introducing ourselves as families. And that has begun to happen. You have chosen not to only litigate but to open your family up so that all of us can know you.”  

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