Health & Wellness

Couple with Down syndrome celebrate 22 years of marriage, defying critics

After dating for 18 months, Tommy Pilling knew he wanted to marry Maryanne Martin. But Pilling — who has Down syndrome — didn’t have enough money to buy a ring. So he got creative and bought a plastic ring from a vending machine to propose to Maryanne, who also has Down syndrome.

When Maryanne’s mom, Linda Martin, realized Pilling planned on using a plastic band, she took him to a jewelry store to help him buy a ring.

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Couple with Down syndrome celebrate 22 years of marriage

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Couple with Down syndrome celebrate 22 years of marriage

Play Video - 0:57

This proposal, which caused Maryanne to “jump with joy,” took place more than 22 years ago and the British couple has been happily married ever since. At the time, some criticized Martin for allowing the two to marry because they didn't think people with Down syndrome should or could have a serious relationship. But Maryanne's family disagreed.

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Maryanne and Tommy have a huge Facebook following of people inspired by their heartwarming story.

RELATED: Woman with Down syndrome defies odds to celebrate her 75th birthday

“My mum has been 100 percent supportive,” Lindi Newman, Maryanne’s sister, told TODAY, via email. “Anyone should have the right to marry the love of their life without prejudice or discrimination.”

Critics claimed the marriage wouldn’t last, but the couple certainly proved them wrong.

“What keeps their marriage so strong is that there is never a hidden agenda. They love each other with their whole hearts and are honest with one another,” said Newman, who shares details about the couple on their Facebook page, Maryanne and Tommy.

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The couple wed at St. Mary's Church in Shoeburyness in July 1995.

RELATED: Woman with Down syndrome living her dream as Zumba instructor

The wedding, an all-day event, included 250 friends and family members. Maryanne wore a white princess dress, while the wedding party — which included many of their friends with Down syndrome and other learning disabilities — wore blue.

“They had a beautiful wedding,” Newman said.

While their marriage is based on love and honesty, it’s also successful because the two are well-suited for each other. Maryanne, 46, loves to talk and Tommy, 58, is reserved and quiet.

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Maryanne and Tommy wearing their Coast Guard rescue life jackets.

RELATED: Man with Down syndrome excitedly cheers reading college acceptance letter

“He sits back and listens and she likes that,” Newman said.

While Maryanne works one day a week at a local charity store, the couple spends a lot of time together and lives an active life. They bowl, golf, see movies, go to theme parks, go out for dinner and drinks and spend time with family. They live in their own apartment, which is next to Maryanne's mother's and across the street from Newman and her husband in Southend-on-Sea in England.

Newman hopes others learn from the story of her sister and brother-in-law.

“Anything is possible with love and there should be no limitations for anyone, no matter what their circumstances are,” she said.

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The couple during their early days of dating. They first met at a day center in Southend.

RELATED: 2-year-old boy with Down syndrome recites alphabet in viral video

The Pillings say they never fight and think of each other as best friends. They share advice for others hoping for a long, successful relationship: “Always be honest, make time for each other, and always have respect for each other.”

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