A 2014 cross-country trip to California proved to be a life-changer for April Chatman-Royce and Mary Beth Gallagher.
“We spent three weeks driving across the country, to San Francisco and back,” Gallagher said. “April proposed several times on that trip, and we decided that, if we can spend three weeks in a car together and survive, we might as well go ahead and get married.”
The couple met online in September 2013 and had their first in-person meeting for a movie date at Gallagher’s house.
“We watched a movie called ‘Momma,’ which was a terrible horrible film,” Chatman-Royce laughed.
When she arrived at the door, Gallagher joked that she was struck by Chatman-Royce’s short stature.
“I’m 5-foot-2 on a good day and for the first time I felt huge,” she laughed.
“My first impression was that she was very cute but I wanted to let her make the first move,” Chatman-Royce added. “That ultimately backfired, and I ended up making the first move.”
The couple took things slowly in the beginning. They had both gotten out of bad relationships and Chatman-Royce said they tried — but ultimately failed — to resist their feelings for one another.
“We wanted to have fun and have things be easy,” she said. “It started out casually and we tried to fight the feelings but again it was just so easy and fun that I just fell in love pretty naturally.”
“It was three weeks into our dating when we realized that we were falling in love,” Gallagher said. “We fought it tooth and nail. We just couldn’t believe it could be love; it was crazy, but so easy, so different than our past relationships. And that was that.”
Gallagher said they met one another’s families, adopted a dog together and introduced the cats to one another.
“Insert standard lesbian joke here,” she said.
Chatman-Royce said communication and honesty have been integral to the success of their relationship.
“There’s nothing we don’t talk about,” she said. “We really came into the relationship being 100-percent ourselves so we weren’t hiding anything off the bat.”
The two share a love of hiking, play in a Stonewall dodgeball league and on a City of Brotherly Love Softball League team.
Chatman-Royce, 32, is a native of West Chester who earned a bachelor’s degree from Tyler School of Art and went on to study make-up artistry in Canada. She is now a film and television make-up artist who has worked on 20 feature films, most recently as head of the make-up department for “Brotherly Love.”
Gallagher, 37, is an English professor at La Salle and Rowan universities. The South Jersey native earned her Ph.D. from Morgan State University.
Gallagher joked that Chatman-Royce gave her a proposition that motivated her to complete her doctorate degree.
“I was still working on my Ph.D. and April said she wouldn’t marry me unless I was a doctor, so after 10 years, I wrote my dissertation and finished it in one year,” she said.
“I would have married her even if she hadn’t finished,” Chatman-Royce added.
The couple, who lives in Gloucester, N.J., married Aug. 8 at Riverwinds Community Center in West Deptford.
Gallagher said they wanted to host a wedding event that they themselves would want to attend as guests.
“We primarily wanted to have a really big party,” she said. “We have lot of friends and I have a huge family and we’re all extroverts so we knew if we got everyone in a room with some games, alcohol and good music, it would kind of take care of itself.”
The couple incorporated a lot of DIY elements in the event; in lieu of a shower, they invited family and friends for a craft party, where they made the centerpieces and other decorations.
The ceremony was held at the center’s outdoor amphitheater with a reception at its banquet hall across the street that was held both indoor and outdoor, complete with lawn games like cornhole and ladder golf.
The planning was already nearly complete when the U.S. Supreme Court last summer legalized marriage equality nationwide.
“We had our officiant make it a point to say, ‘And now by the power vested in me by the state of New Jersey and the United States of America,’ because that was important,” Chatman-Royce said. “It’s great that it worked out like that.”