Karen Pence’s secret first marriage

Indiana governor and Republican vice presidential nominee Mike Pence built his political brand as an Evangelical, known for his signature line, “I’m a Christian, a conservative and a Republican. In that order.” Pence’s strict adherence to religious values has been held as a contrast to the thrice-divorced Trump, but evidence suggests the possibility that Pence himself married a divorcée when he married his wife Karen in 1985.

Wikipedia cites this 2013 profile of Mike and Karen Pence from The Republic for much of their personal biographical information. It opens like this:

From the moment Indianapolis native Karen Batten agreed to marry Mike Pence in 1984, she knew she had signed up for a life in politics. But life as first lady of the state of Indiana was a bit more unexpected.

The pair met just a block from the governor’s mansion when Karen was playing guitar at a Mass at St. Thomas Aquinas Church. Mike was in law school at the time, and Karen said he was clear from the start that holding political office was important to him.

Digging a little deeper, I tried the Indiana State Library’s “Marriages: 1958-2013″ database, but there were no search results for any Michael Pence or this Karen Batten. There was an older Karen Batten’s marriage listed, as were several other marriages that I specifically searched (so the database was functioning properly) As of 2:25 p.m. we’ve learned that they’re listed in the database with a typo in her name. Next, I checked out the Indianapolis Star’s archives to see if the wedding of Mike Pence and Karen Batten made the local paper of record. It had. On June 9, 1985. Sort of.

A transcription of the newspaper clipping:

Karen Sue Whitaker and Michael R. Pence, both of Indianapolis, were married Saturday in St. Christopher’s Catholic Church in Speedway.

Their parents are Mr. and Mrs. Bernard F. Barcio of Indianapolis and Mr. and Mrs. Edward J. Pence of Columbus. The bride was graduated from Butler University and is a teacher for Acton Elementary School. Her husband was graduated from Hanover College and is a member of Phi Gamma Delta. He is attending IUPUI School of Law and is a law clerk for Dutton, Kappes and Overman.

Well. Isn’t that interesting? The bride’s name is listed as one “Karen Sue Whitaker,” not Karen Sue Batten. The Star’s mention of their marriage license application, printed five days later on June 14, includes the same name for the new Mrs. Pence. They’re listed second from the top:

A far more elaborate wedding notice was printed in the June 21, 1985, edition of The Columbus Herald of Columbus, Indiana:

The transcription:

Karen Whitaker and Michael R. Pence exchanged wedding vows June 8 at St. Christopher’s Roman Catholic Church at Speedway. The Rev. Jim Lasher solemnized the 3:30 p.m. ceremony.

A reception followed at Midway Motor Lodge.

A wedding trip to Nassau was planned. The couple reside at Indianapolis.

The bride, the daughter of Mr. and Mrs. Bernard F. Barcio of Indianapolis, was graduated from Butler University with bachelor’s and master’s degrees in elementary education. She is a second-grade teacher at Acton Elementary School at Indianapolis.

The bridegroom, the son of Mr. and Mrs. Edward J. Pence of 3635 Woodside, was graduated from Hanover College with a degree in history and was affiliated with Phi Gamma Delta social fraternity. He attends Indiana University School of Law at Indianapolis and is employed at Dutton and Overman at Indianapolis.

Maid of honor was Dr. Karen Klee of Indianapolis. Bridesmaids were Shelley Murphy, Jeanne Grivetti and Cindy Barcio, all of Indianapolis, Anne and Mary Pence and Anne Donnella of Philadelphia.

Best man was Jeff Brown of Monticello. Groomsmen were Thomas Pence of Atlanta, Jay Steger of Indianapolis, Gregory Pence of Chicago, Edward Pence, Philip Barcio of Indianapolis and Erik Donnella of Philadelphia. Usher was Jim Hogan of Indianapolis.

In cross-checking other articles in the archives of the Indy Star, it’s clear that there is no “Whitaker” in Karen Pence’s family tree. Karen’s mother’s maiden name was Lillian Hacker, and she took on the last name of Karen’s father, John Batten, when they got married. Lillian changed her last name again to Barcio when she married a coworker, Bernard Barcio. There’s no Whitaker in the mix at all.

Also, according to the Star’s archives, Karen Pence was still known as Karen Batten as late as 1977, while she was enrolled as a student at Butler University. Her year of graduation is missing from any of the biographical information we could find for her, and her middle name is nowhere to be found. A 2013 profile of Karen Pence in the Indy Star indicates that she and the governor became engaged in August of 1984, roughly 10 months prior to the big day when Michael Pence and Karen Whitaker tied the knot. They had first met “a few months” prior:

Her husband would want her to say she fell for him because “he was a stud,” jokes Karen Pence. The two seemed to have everything in common, she says. Within a few months of their meeting, she knew that he was the one.

She had a gold cross engraved with the word “yes” and stashed it in her purse. A month later, on Aug. 6, 1984, Mike dropped to his knee as the two walked along the canal in the Meridian-Kessler neighborhood, feeding the ducks. They were married in June 1985.

So: Karen Sue Batten changed her name to Karen Whitaker sometime between 1977 and 1984, when she became engaged to Pence. One must wonder why. Did she marry? If so, when did they divorce? When Karen Whitaker met Michael R. Pence “a few months” before August of 1984, was she still wedded to the mysterious Mr. Whitaker? Would a young Michael R. Pence be so bold as to court a married woman? Governor Pence’s office and the Trump campaign were not immediately available for comment.

Karen Whitaker, formerly Batten, would have been 19 years old in 1977 and 26 in 1984 — plenty of time for a brief marriage to begin and end. It wouldn’t even be newsworthy, except that her current husband has advocated legislation based on a strict religious worldview.

In 1997, four years before becoming elected to U.S. Congress, Pence made multiple comments suggesting that laws against adultery should not only still be on the books, but also enforced. Feeling that same-sex marriage would disrupt the sanctity of marriage, Pence once signed a bill that would make it so that a gay couple could be charged with felonies if they sought out a marriage license. Being an “evangelical Catholic,” he’s seemingly not a fan of divorce, either, in spite of being Donald Trump’s running mate. (For his part, Trump now denies having ever cheated on any of his wives.)

UPDATE, 2:20 p.m.: We have obtained the Pences’ marriage certificate from Ancestry.com, which confirms that Karen Pence was married (and divorced) before wedding Mike Pence in 1985:

Mike Pence & Karen Whitaker marriage certificate

[photo: Getty]