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Debate over marriage law creates legal limbo


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The Roysdons%u2019 marriage might not be recognized by the state, but in their own eyes, the union is just as indelible.

(Tom Russo / Daily Reporter)
The Roysdons%u2019 marriage might not be recognized by the state, but in their own eyes, the union is just as indelible. (Tom Russo / Daily Reporter)

Sherry (left) and Deb Roysdon have experienced a range of emotions since the appeals court ruling and its subsequent stay.

(Tom Russo / Daily Reporter)
Sherry (left) and Deb Roysdon have experienced a range of emotions since the appeals court ruling and its subsequent stay. (Tom Russo / Daily Reporter)


REENFIELD — When asked what attracted her to her wife, Deb Roysdon stopped to think.

It wasn’t a pause of uncertainty; it was just the challenge of putting into words what’s made the last seven years feel so right.

It was June 27, 2007, when Deb and Sherry stood on a beach in Florida and pledged their love and lives to one another. On their seventh anniversary, they made their union legal when a federal judge lifted Indiana’s gay marriage ban.

But when the ruling was stayed pending an appeal, Gov. Mike Pence declared marriages performed in the preceding days would not be recognized.

It left couples like the Roysdons in legal limbo.

But the Greenfield couple feels as married as ever. And Deb says she is still drawn to her wife by the same things as when they met more than a decade ago.

“Just her personality,” Deb said with a grin. “Her smile. Her outgoingness.”

Now, sitting together in their Greenfield home, the pair look about as starry-eyed as one might imagine they did on their first date.

Before Deb, Sherry had never been in a relationship with a woman. Never even had an interest. She was married to a man for 21 years, in fact, leading some to wonder what led to such a sweeping lifestyle change.

But she knows.

“It was her,” she said, gazing at Deb. “Absolutely her.”

 

A special bond

 

It was in so many ways a typical office romance, one person making eyes at the other, hinting at the possibility of more than a friendship.

Deb, of course, kept the conversation light, always teasing. After all, Sherry was married when they first met 11 years ago.

But as they became closer, Sherry recognized something special in this co-worker who had become her friend and confidant.

Their first official date was in 2005. They went to the Mercy Me concert together just a few days before Christmas.

Sherry remembers the mix of emotions.

“Just a bundle of nerves, like any first date,” Sherry said.

There were butterflies for Deb, too, who was watching Sherry undergo a radical change and hoping against hope she wouldn’t change her mind.

“Maybe she’d wake up one day and go, ‘Oh, my God, what am I doing?’ ” Deb said. “And what’s gonna happen the next day at work?”

But Sherry’s feelings were steadfast.

Of course, the transition to being in the relationship – or at least explaining it to everyone else – took time.

Deb had been open about her sexuality for some time. Sherry, on the other hand, had been married for more than two decades. She and her husband had raised two children together. Also, she grew up in a religious family, and she knew her new relationship would cause tension.

She was right. And it wasn’t always easy. Not everyone accepted Sherry’s decision, and the fact they both brought children into the relationship in some way complicated things further. Aside from Sherry’s kids from her previous marriage, Deb had also adopted two children.

But as their relationship grew, Deb and Sherry knew they were meant to be together, bumps, bruises and all.

“When I was with her, none of it mattered,” Sherry said. “You realize everything that you were missing now is whole in your life.”

 

Fateful anniversary

 

Gay.

The word came with so many connotations, not all of which Sherry felt applied to her feelings or what she shared with Deb. And so at first, she struggled with the label she felt was forced on her by others.

“I don’t consider myself gay; I’m just in a relationship with a female that I am in love with,” she said.

“One and done,” joked Deb.

The worries – what others might do or say – faded as the pair built a life together, blending their families, taking trips and making memories.

Today, the Roysdons lead a busy life not unlike those of their neighbors. Deb is a workforce analyst, and Sherry owns her own cupcake business, “Nana’s Sweets & Treats.”

They’re busy raising Deb’s children, now 13 and 12. Sherry’s children are grown, now 27 and 22. They have two grandchildren and enjoy family get-togethers and movie nights at home on the couch.

And it could have all gone on, just like that, forever, as far as they were concerned.

But then, just two days before their seventh anniversary, Deb saw a headline that changed everything.

A federal judge had in essence legalized gay marriage in Indiana.

It was time to ask Sherry that important question all over again.

(She said yes, of course.)

 

It can’t be

taken away

 

A family friend married the Roysdons at midnight on their seventh anniversary. The ceremony took place at a special spot – so special they dare not share its location – and the life-changing event was over in a matter of minutes.

“But it seemed like it took forever,” Deb said.

They laughed. They cried. They released glowing lanterns into the night sky and sipped champagne, knowing the state now had to recognize what they had known for years: They were married, in their hearts and now — finally — on paper.

It was joy shared by hundreds of couples across the state who rushed to apply for marriage licenses in the brief window of time before an appeal put the judge’s decision to legalize gay marriage on hold.

And then came worse news.

The Roysdons were planning their wedding reception, a chance to celebrate their nuptials with family and friends, when Pence made the announcement: Same-sex marriages performed in that two-day span would not be recognized.

The Roysdons were devastated.

The reception plans were put on hold.

Deb was overwhelmed, thinking about all the things they’d been through as a couple. She couldn’t fathom how someone could tell them their love wasn’t worth recognizing.

“We’ve purchased houses together; we’ve raised kids; we’ve gone through marriages, deaths, births together,” she said. “It was just like, how within 72 hours can you go, ‘Here you go. Nope, sorry.’”

Sherry echoed her frustration.

“You’re shocked, and then you’re mad, and then it’s like you’re frustrated – but only because of the emphasis that everyone puts on it, about the legal, not legal,” she said. “It’s like, how dare someone be able to tell me who I can marry?”

But then something happened.

The initial emotions wore off; some time passed, and the anger died down. No one, the Roysdons knew, could define the love they felt for one another – or take it away.

They looked back on those reception plans.

“And then, it put a fire to it,” Sherry said. “It was like, ‘we’re doing this.’”

 

Waiting for

the tide to turn

 

The Roysdons’ first wedding was small – just the two of them and their officiant on the beach. They were joined for their second ceremony by just a couple close friends.

But next month, 250 of the Roysdons’ friends and family will gather to celebrate their union.

The reception hall will be decorated in black and ivory with pink accents.

Deb and Sherry will dance to “Amazed,” the same crooning country song they danced to for the first time on that beach in Florida seven years ago.

Guests will enjoy French vanilla cake and cupcakes, made by Sherry, of course.

As far as their Indiana marriage goes, the wait continues.

And that’s OK.

Emotionally, it’s been a tumultuous few weeks, but the Roysdons have no regrets.

“More in love today than I’ve ever been,” Deb said, then, grinning teasingly at Sherry, “I’ll make you divorce me – legal or not.”

The Roysdons suspect the tide is turning on gay marriage, and they think it’s only a matter of time before it’s legal in Indiana for good.

Meanwhile, the governor’s announcement has no bearing on their feelings for one another.

“I am at the best spot I’ve ever been in, in my life,” Sherry said. “He can’t tell me who to love. She’s absolutely the love of my life.”

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