Being from the same small town in Indiana, I’ve known Sharon Stanley practically my entire life. And when I think about Sharon, I think of her infectious and welcoming smile, so welcoming you kinda want to strike up a conversation just to be near her. Sharon laughs genuinely and freely, and she gives great big hugs. Sharon is generous with her friendship, the kind of person you could lean on in a crisis, you can trust her. You just get that “feel” about her.
If you were Sharon’s Facebook friend over the years, you would have seen her devastation with the loss of her mother, her many pictures posted honoring her, words praising her and loving her. More recently, you would have read the stories of Sharon caring for her ailing father, being sure he still enjoyed his life with love, fun, and most of all, dignity. Sharon’s father was losing his memories but Sharon still kept creating new ones for all of their family to continue to cherish.
Sharon is just good people. Period. And as far as I know, I’ve never heard anybody care whether she was “straight” or a lesbian. Even in our small town which can often be closed-minded, nobody cared much because you can’t help but love Sharon, for exactly who she is.
It was about a year ago, this time of year, when Sharon asked her girlfriend, Kathryn to marry her. It was a particularly hopeful and optimistic proposal, since it was (and still is today) not legal to marry your same-sex partner in the state of Indiana. But isn’t love always optimistic? Doesn’t every marriage proposal begin with overflowing hope for the future?
Between June 25th and June 27th, 2014, marriage of same-sex couples was legal in the state of Indiana. Hundreds of couples rushed to be married to their partners only to have the state ignore the legality of their unions almost before the ink dried on their marriage licenses.
Putting politics, religion, and law aside, it is just a matter of time before marriage of same-sex couples becomes legal once again (and permanently) in the state of Indiana. It’s even hard for me to believe, but all signs are pointing in that direction. On November 15, 2008, my daughter (then 8 years old) and I marched in Chicago to protest California’s Prop 8 (a 2008 California state ballot proposition which resulted in a state constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage which was ultimately ruled unconstitutional Learn More ). There wasn’t a huge crowd on that bitter cold day, but it was a planned protest so downtown streets were emptied for us to march. There were probably as many police officers, spectators, and photojournalists as there were actual protestors. In hindsight, it’s because people really didn’t believe it could happen. What good would it do to protest in Chicago against a state issue in California?
But here we are today, 2014, not so many years later, fighting for those same rights in Indiana. And they are coming. There comes a time when political (and religious) mud slinging will no longer make an impact. What will make the final difference is letting those directly impacted tell their stories, because as is so often the case, those people whose rights are not directly impacted by this debate tend to be the loudest.
On June 25, 2014, Sharon and Kathryn became the first same-sex couple married in Mishawaka, Indiana and the first same-sex female couple to be married in St. Joseph County. Without further ado, here is my interview with Sharon Stanley:
A: First, congratulations! Please tell us more about your relationship, how long have you been together? How did you know you had found “the one”:
S: Kathryn and I have been together for 2 years and 3 months. I have known her for 8 years but fell in love with her the first time I literally saw her smile. We worked together but when she left the place we worked, we always kept in touch by email or text. She never knew I had this enormous crush on her until I told her!!!
I knew Kathryn was the only one when I did not want to be with anyone else. She was my first thought when I woke and my last thought before I slept! I still have butterflies when she’s near me. It’s crazy, I never, ever felt with such certainty that I was with “the one” until her. She really is amazing and when you meet her, you will fall in love with her too.
A: Did you always hope to be married?
S: Who doesn’t hope to marry the one you love?? The question is why can’t you marry the one you love without a judge saying, “Yes, you can marry”? It is your right!
A: As we know, Indiana tends to be a conservative state, have you had the support of your families and friends? Being amongst the first same-sex couples married in the state, are you worried about the reaction of your community?
S: I would say my home town, Lakeville, would be very welcoming to the triumph of Kathryn and I marrying. I grew up with parents very active and known in Lakeville, therefore everyone knows me and my family. The legacy my parents left behind is an awesome one and now, as I reside in Osceola, I have not felt any different as I did the day before we married! I went to the post office today and a man stopped me and said “Hey, your part of our first couple”! Osceola has been very good for us!
When I came “out”, back in the early 90’s, I told my parents I did not like men and that I wanted to be with women. Dad was okay with it, but Mom, not so much at first. My siblings, nieces, nephews were okay with who I wanted to love. That is one thing my parents did, no matter what I said, I always had love from them. My siblings are much older than myself and I did not feel shunned by them! I lost a few friends along the way but for every few friends I lost, I gained 3! A lot of my high school friends are very supportive of who I love and I have not felt it off place but accepted!
A: As we’ve seen in other states, sometimes appeals nullify same-sex marriages are you worried about what the future may hold for the legality of your marriage?
S: I expected as soon as Judge Young ruled Indiana’s ban unconstitutional for same sex couples, Zoeller, the Indiana Attorney General, would be wanting a stay of the prohibition on same sex marriage. Now, we will see what the Supreme Court will decide, which has already ruled you cannot deny any person the right to marry who they want, regardless of gender. There are so many states doing same-sex marriages that soon the state’s that are not, will be among the minority. Indiana is a Republican house/Senate controlled state and with the ruling by Judge Young, I am sure they are dumbfounded that a judge, no less, would rule against Indiana’s amendment regarding marriage. Let the Supreme Court rule on this matter (again) because now Indiana’s hands are tied and need to follow the judges ruling.
A: How did it feel to be able to obtain a marriage license today? How did the court clerks and media react to your request? Were you then married at the court house?
S: I proposed to Kathryn last year at her best friends house in front of many friends and family. We were going to head to Chicago June 12th (my parents wedding anniversary date) to be wed there this year but then I started a new job and could not get that date off. Glad we did not go! To be able to marry here in Indiana, legally marry, is a feeling of finally being recognized by a state that does not like to change, and be among the front runners of equality for all Hoosiers! Wow, we are “Mrs. and Mrs.!!”
My best friend, Katrina, told Kathryn the ban had been lifted that day. Kathryn woke me up, since I worked the previous night, and said “Hey, a judge ruled it unconstitutional to deny us marriage.” I sat up and told her “get ready, call some people, let me get dressed, ‘cause we are going to the county city building!!” When we arrived there, Kathryn said to me, “I do not want to be on camera.” Well, we enter the marriage license office and there was the South Bend Tribune, WSBT-TV, WNDU-TV, FOX-TV stations, all staring at us when we entered. Kathryn squeezed my hand tighter and I smiled and said, “Are you ready to be on camera?” She said, “I guess!” lol. The staff was standing out there and did not have any forms for same sex marriage so they had to hand write and add the letters “fe” to “male” on our marriage application!! We paid the $16.00 fee and I asked for a judge. Well, they were all busy that afternoon, so we called City of Mishawaka and they said, “Come on down!!!” We jumped in the truck, headed to the Mishawaka court house, met the judges clerk, she took our papers, walked upstairs to the judges chambers, and asked us to have a seat. We waited with Katrina (my best friend), Tanya (Kathryn’s friend) with her kids and husband, Shane. The clerk then came out and said, “All rise for the Honorable Judge Manier.” We all stood and she walked up to us and said she would allow pictures, so the clerk escorted Katrina and Tanya out to get cameras. The judge looked over the papers said everything was in order to begin our ceremony. We did the vows, exchanged the rings, and she then said, “I now pronounce you married in the state of Indiana!!!” I do know we are the first couple in Mishawaka to be wed and the first women in St. Joe County to be wed!!
A: I know you have many loved ones, do you plan on following up today’s marriage with a bigger celebration?
S: A party is in the works as we speak, not sure of the date yet. We have talked about going to Colorado, we have been there a few times in the last year and loved it!! We will see though, maybe we will just grab a dart, put up a map and see where it lands!!;)
A: Have you gotten any wise marriage advice you’d like to share?
S: Yes, always tell them you love them, while in bed, eating dinner, doing the dishes, while on a break from work, always tell them you love them! Hold hands, hug one another, leave hand written notes in drawers to let them know you miss them and you love them. Be honest, if you do not let the other person know what you like or do not like, you will end up guessing and not be happy. If you do not take a chance, you never had one. This I what my parents had said and done and they were together for over 60 years!! I remember Mom and Dad telling me and they practiced what they preached!
A: What is the most important thing you’d like for those who oppose same-sex marriage to know?
S: Let’s see, where to begin on this… Kathryn and I were married on Wednesday and I am very certain that no other couples vows we’re rendered meaningless by all the same sex marriages performed in the state of Indiana!! I know, shocker here!!! I also hear “since gays are allowed to marry, next people will be marrying their dog” and that is so stupid since marriage requires two consenting adults, two consenting human adults!!!!
Yes, I get that some are opposed to same sex marriage but I am happy, I am employed full time, I hold the hand of the woman I love while walking thru the super markets and if heads turn, its because we look so good together! It is their right to oppose whatever they want, just like it is my right to marry who ever I want regardless of gender.
What’s the secret of a successful relationship? It takes two: two to love, two to prosper, two to lean on, two to disagree, two to make up, and two people to grow old together. Open your heart and pour your soul into the one you love! With Kathryn and I our relationship is not building our world around each other but rather including each other in the building of our lives.
Since my original interview:
On June 27th, 2014, two days after Sharon and Kathryn were married, the U.S. Seventh Circuit court granted the state of Indiana an emergency stay of same-sex marriage for the duration of the appeal process. On July 9th, 2014, Governor Pence’s office declared the state would not recognize the same-sex marriages which occurred between June 25th and June 27th, 2014. The hundreds of couples, who like Sharon and Kathryn, rushed to claim their right to legally marry, remain in legal limbo, committed in love and marriage without state recognition. On July 2, 2014, the same court granted the immediate recognition of just one same-sex couples’ marriage because one partner’s terminal illness, and as such, that couple, Amy Sandler and Niki Quasney, currently remain the only same-sex married couple recognized by the state of Indiana.
As the Democratic Party Chair John Zody expressed in a statement on July 9th, 2014, “Governor Pence is embarrassing our state by ignoring these families, creating an unwelcoming environment for those who want to call Indiana home,” he stated. “No Hoosier should be treated as a second-class citizen.” (source indianapublicmedia.org)
And as final thought, we’ll end with the words of the late, great poet and advocate Maya Angelou. This quote is from a New York Times article by Jeremy W. Peters as reported on Huffington Post:
“I would ask every man and every woman who’s had the blessing of having children, ‘Would you deny your son or your daughter the ecstasy of finding someone to love?’ ” she said. “To love someone takes a lot of courage,” she said. “So how much more is one challenged when the love is of the same sex and the laws say, ‘I forbid you from loving this person’?”
The story of love equality in Indiana is a story to be continued…pending appeals.