Michigan Gay Marriage
Jayne Rowse, left, speaks as April DeBoer, kisses her during a news conference in Ferndale, Mich., March 21, 2014. The two nurses who've been partners for eight years claimed the ban violated their rights under the U.S. Constitution. Paul Sancya—AP

Meet the Plaintiffs in the Supreme Court's Gay Marriage Case

Jan 16, 2015

The Supreme Court announced Friday that it would review an appeals court case upholding bans on same-sex marriage in four states.

The Court will consider four cases that have been consolidated and will be heard together, from Michigan, Ohio, Kentucky and Tennessee. In each case, families and individuals are challenging the gay marriage bans in their respective states. These are their stories:

Michigan

April DeBoer and Jayne Rowse: DeBoer and Rowse's lawsuit against the state of Michigan was inspired by a close call on a snowy Ohio road that could have been a fatal car accident. That's when they realized that if anything ever happened to one of them, their children would be split up and sent to live with distant relatives. Even though the Detroit-area nurses have adopted four special-needs kids together (ages 2-5,) they're not legally a family. DeBoer and Rowse each have legal custody of two of their brood, but they can't adopt together because Michigan doesn't allow unmarried couples to adopt, and they can't marry because same-sex marriage is illegal in that state. They filed their lawsuit in 2012.

Kentucky

Greg Bourke and Michael DeLeon: Bourke and DeLeon have been together for more than 30 years and have two adopted teenagers together. Even though they married in Canada in 2004 and their marriage was recognized by the federal government in the 2013 DOMA decision, Kentucky still doesn't recognize them as a married couple, which means that only one of them can be the official parent of their children. The couple filed their lawsuit to challenge the constitutionality of Kentucky's gay marriage ban in 2013. "There's no reason why we should be second-class citizens," De Leon said in an interview. "We should be at the table with everybody else."

Tennessee

Valeria Tanco and Sophy Jesty: Valeria Tanco and Sophy Jesty have made history even before their case was selected to be heard before the Supreme Court. Their daughter, Emilia Maria Jesty, was the first baby born in Tennessee to have a woman listed as her "father" on her birth certificate. Tanco and Jesty were legally married in New York, but then moved to Tennessee, which does not recognize gay marriage. Both Tanco and Jesty are veterinary professors at the University of Tennessee, and they filed a lawsuit in 2013 to ask that the state recognize their marriage. "It affects my rights because I actually don't have any legal rights as her parent at this time and that's why we've been fighting so hard, so many families, like ours, can have the legal acknowledgement of their real relationships," Jesty said.

Ohio

James Obergefell: While the other three cases were inspired by the birth and adoption of children, James Obergefell and John Arthur's lawsuit was inspired by death. Arthur suffered from ALS, so when the Supreme Court overturned DOMA the couple chartered a private medical jet to go to Maryland to get married after more than 20 years together. When they returned to Ohio, they filed a lawsuit to get their marriage recognized so that the couple could be buried together, in a family plot of a cemetery that allows only spouses and relatives. A judge ruled that Arthur, who died in Oct. 2013, could be listed as "married" on his death certificate. But Ohio appealed that ruling, and if the appeal stands, Arthur's death certificate will be amended to remove his marriage to Obergefell.

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