Fiancees Megan Robertson and Katie Blair chat Oct. 19, 2016, during a dinner date at Tinker Street restaurant in Indianapolis. The Republican and Democrat met as they worked on marriage equality in the state.(Photo: Jenna Watson, The Indianapolis Star)
INDIANAPOLIS — In 2013 GOP strategist Megan Robertson was roiling both Democrats and Republicans as she battled to defeat a constitutional ban on same-sex marriage.
Though openly gay, Robertson’s career highlights included helping elect same-sex marriage opponents to Congress, organizing rallies for Sarah Palin and working for the Indiana Republican Party, which denounced same-sex marriages.
“Who does she think she is?” Katie Blair said, sputtering about the woman how was campaign manager of Freedom Indiana from July 2013 to May 2014. “She might be running it, but she doesn’t know what she’s talking about.”
As a lobbyist for the American Civil Liberties Union of Indiana, Blair was working with Freedom Indiana. What she couldn’t know then was that their work together would end up as a fight for their future marriage.
Many liberal advocates seemed convinced that Robertson was some kind of “awful Republican monster” — her own words — when she took up the same-sex marriage fight. When she took her staff out for drinks, they called it “mandatory fun.”
“I thought I was being nice,” Robertson said, “But I’m a Republican, so nothing I did was considered nice.”
“Being on the other side of the aisle, she (Megan Robertson) really does challenge me in a way that I’ve never been challenged before. That’s really exciting, and I really love it.”Katie Blair, Indianapolis
Slowly, they discovered her dry humor, unshakable loyalty and industrious work ethic. They uncovered her undying devotion for the Chicago Bears and her uncanny talent for karaoke rap songs.
They relished her love of winning campaigns.
Robertson, too, discovered that she had to adapt her blunt, all-business style to touchy-feely storytelling. And hers was one of the stories to be told.
The public face of Indiana's marriage-equality movement was devoted to her political party even as some in it rejected her for her sexual orientation. She made same-sex marriage in Indiana — and later, civil rights for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender Hoosiers — into a bipartisan issue by leveraging her contacts and influence in the GOP.
But she put her career on the line. Websites, newspaper front pages and TV reports across the state blared her status as a gay Republican.
But one quirky Democrat with a penchant for cat-print dresses and cat-eye glasses started to see Robertson as a feisty Republican woman, brilliant and brave for standing up for what she believed in.
Robertson and Blair texted often about work. Pretty soon the messages included personal chitchat.
During the holidays, Robertson sent Blair photos of a new rug in her apartment. She also sent pictures of her decorated Christmas tree.
Blair didn't know what to make of it at first.
Democrat Katie Blair was Freedom Indiana's deputy campaign manager in March 2015 when this picture was taken. (Photo: Charlie Nye, The Indianapolis Star)
“Has she been sending you pictures of her home furnishings?” she asked other people. Friends teased Robertson about it.
“That’s not actually how you make the moves on somebody,” some said.
The two grew closer through the long lobbying days of the legislative session, which culminated in victory for Freedom Indiana. Most lawmakers still opposed same-sex marriage, but enough Republicans crossed over to block a constitutional ban.
“We were all excited when we won — really, really excited,” said Peter Hanscom, the former deputy director of Freedom Indiana. “Megan and Katie were excited maybe for different reasons. As we closed this chapter out, I think they got a lot more than just winning from it. They found each other from this work.”
Blair and Robertson took a post-session trip together to celebrate. Soon, they were moving in together and doting on two Boston terriers.
Robertson knew she would date someone more liberal given the scarcity of gay Republicans like herself. But she never suspected she would date someone as politically active as Blair — a former Planned Parenthood activist, enthusiastic wearer of Hillary Clinton leggings and self-labeled bleeding heart liberal as seen in the tattoo in her arm.
Blair had dated mostly men, so she broke the news to her family that she was dating a woman. Her parents were supportive; her father probably liked that Robertson was a Republican like him, Blair said laughing, and not a vegetarian like an ill-fated boyfriend she once had.
Republican Megan Robertson was campaign manager for Freedom Indiana in August 2013 when this picture was taken. (Photo: Kelly Wilkinson, The Indianapolis Star)
Her mother, hoping for a grandchild, gushed over Robertson being equally ambitious in her career, equally passionate about causes, equally involved in life as Blair.
Unapologetically sassy, Blair throws herself into women’s rights and other equality issues. She took the reins at Freedom Indiana as deputy campaign manager in January 2015 through the state's explosive Religious Freedom Restoration Act controversy until March of this year.
She found Robertson’s intensity to be exhilarating.
“Being on the other side of the aisle, she really does challenge me in a way that I’ve never been challenged before,” Blair said. “That’s really exciting, and I really love it.”
But one of their first fights exploded over a partisan issue: voting rights.
Because people have to show identification at Blockbuster to rent a movie or at the YMCA to get a membership, Robertson argued that everybody should have to show an ID at the polls to vote.
Blair, who once worked to register Democratic women, called Robertson an oppressor.
Blair left for work that morning still seething. Minutes down the street, she picked up her phone to call her girlfriend.
“AND FURTHERMORE,” Blair shouted into the phone, continuing to tell Robertson how she was wrong.
“There are some fights that you just disagree on. And they’re going to come up and whatever. We don’t have to agree on everything.”Megan Robertson, Indianapolis
They learned not to talk about voting rights.
“There are some fights that you just disagree on," Robertson said. "And they’re going to come up and whatever. We don’t have to agree on everything."
They negotiated a balanced ratio of partisan refrigerator magnets. They cut a deal concerning yard signs: for last year’s Indianapolis mayoral race, an unopposed sign for Republican candidate Chuck Brewer, in exchange for an unopposed sign for Democrat Hillary Clinton in this year’s presidential race.
Blair, 32, and Robertson, 34, revel in political banter. They rib each other almost constantly, good naturedly, lovingly and often seamlessly shifting to defend each other — an approach that also extends to discussing movies, celebrity crushes and household cleanliness.
Opposites attract, and Blair and Robertson’s magnetism brings in everyone around them.
Are they Indiana’s millennial version of the famous bipartisan couple, James Carville and Mary Matalin? Their political commentary is just as entertaining, but it feels more like living room chatter than a cable television crossfire.
“Being a Democrat in Indiana — a liberal Democrat in Indiana — I lose a lot,” Blair said. “So a lot of the time I’m sitting at tables with jerks who beat me.”
“Where we’ve just trounced you!” Robertson chimed in gleefully.
At the heart of it all, Blair and Robertson said they share many fundamental values. As Robertson pointed out, Blair’s job with the ACLU of Indiana is to defend the Constitution.
What’s more Republican than that?
“This is what I’ve always said about Democrats and Republicans: We all have the same goals and ideals,” Robertson said. “It’s just a matter of how you get there."
Despite their diametrical politics, Blair and Robertson make a complementary couple and they're better together because of those differences.
In the mornings, they hold mini strategy sessions as they get ready for work and talk about the day ahead. They swap tips for working with high-profile people and proofread each other’s emails.
Like any couple, Blair and Robertson didn’t get into the relationship hoping to change the other person.
“We’re not together so that we can convert an operative,” Robertson said, laughing at the ridiculousness of the thought.
Like any couple, getting along is give and take.
“I’ve only ruined one dinner party,” Blair said proudly.
“Um ... is it one?” Robertson asked.
“Maybe two,” Blair said.
“Yeah, they were ruined,” Robertson said.
They don't do everything together, realizing that sometimes get-togethers with political buddies are for talking shop and talking down their opponents.
On June 26, 2015, the day the U.S. Supreme Court legalized same-sex marriages across the country, Robertson put a deposit on a diamond.
“Why are you not here yet?” Blair texted her from the celebratory festivities.
Weeks later, Robertson secretly drove to Blair's family farm in a tiny Illinois town to ask Blair's father for his blessing. She showed him the engagement ring that she had quietly picked out with the approval of Blair's mother and best friends.
Oblivious to it all, Blair asked Robertson one night: “Do you even have a plan? What’s your timeline for getting engaged?”
Robertson tried not to chuckle.
She planned a surprise proposal at a fancy restaurant. Before dinner, she handed the ring to a nervous waiter who agreed to deliver it with dessert. When Blair said she would be late, Robertson scrambled to keep the plan in line.
The romantic dinner was a blur. Then a pianist began playing their song, and dessert arrived, strawberry cheesecake.
“I didn’t order that!” Blair said.
Then she saw the ring beside it.
“What’s this?” Blair asked frantically. “What’s going on! Are we getting —? Is that a ring? Are we getting engaged? Is that our song? Are we getting married?”
“If you stop asking questions for long enough to say yes, then yes, we’re getting married,” Robertson said.
This is what they had fought for: the right to marry whomever they loved.
But they say their work isn’t done yet.
On a weekend getaway to Dollywood to celebrate their engagement, they felt scared to hold hands in public in rural Tennessee. They turned down wedding vendors who seemed overly self-laudatory for being open to same-sex marriages.
They hunted for wedding trinkets that said “hers and hers,” crestfallen when their favorite guestbook was designed only for “the bride and groom.”
On a nearly two-hour drive to Rochester, Ind., to shop for a wedding gown, Blair worried that the store could turn her away because she was marrying a woman — even though the dress consultants ended up being just fine with it.
As two of the state’s leading advocates on lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender rights, Robertson and Blair worked campaigns earlier this year for statewide nondiscrimination laws, so nobody could be fired from their jobs, denied housing or refused service because of their sexual orientation or gender identity.
A legislative proposal made it further than many would have dreamed just a few years ago, but it ultimately failed. So the fight continues.
On Friday, Nov. 11 — after Election Day, of course — Blair and Robertson will walk down the aisle. As they always do, they will bridge the political aisle, too.
In the wedding party, Hanscom, now the coordinated campaign director for the Indiana Democratic Party, will stand alongside GOP consultants that Robertson chose.
The wedding will intermingle some of the state’s most influential Republican leaders, liberal feminists and apolitical types. Blair and Robertson said they won’t let their day become a partisan party.
“Hopefully the two of them can make things more meet in the middle,” said Blair’s mother, Cindy. “I think people get too one-sided in their beliefs. If you know someone and love someone who has similar but different views, maybe you’re more likely to try to understand the other side.”
Follow Stephanie Wang on Twitter: @stephaniewang