Coming Out and Coming In

Emily Cofer, right, and Sarah Cofer exchange rings as they marry moments after midnight in the in the King County Courthouse,
Emily Cofer, right, and Sarah Cofer exchange rings as they marry moments after midnight in the in the King County Courthouse, becoming among the first gay couples to legally wed Sunday, Dec. 9, 2012, in Seattle. Gov. Chris Gregoire signed a voter-approved law legalizing gay marriage Wednesday, Dec. 5 and weddings for gay and lesbian couples began in Washington on Sunday, following the three-day waiting period after marriage licenses were issued earlier in the week. (AP Photo/Elaine Thompson)

"Marfa?" He was 6 when he asked the question, all big eyes and enormous dimples. "You love my mom like you want to marry her, don't you?"

A heavy silence ensued, head and heart and gut all swerving to a stop before I made words come out of my mouth. I tried to keep my face composed, as I looked at his mother and back at him.

"Yes. I guess I do."

He broke into his most charming smile. "Well, she *is* single!"

We breathed again.

But "marry" remained a charged word as we worked out a plan for bringing our long-distance relationship into one location. We believe in this kind of God: The Lord will keep your going out and your coming in from this time on and forevermore (Psalm 121:8, NRSV). We craved what we kept calling "ordinary time," to be together in all our comings in and goings out. Would we live on the down low, moving nearer to each other and letting people think of us as best friends? Or would we tell the truth, as clearly as a 6-year-old, about our going in and our coming out?

We both grew up in church-attending households. We are both ordained ministers. One of us revered the institution of marriage despite past experience with the father of Mr. Dimples. The other -- that would be me -- felt some combination of romantic hope and workaday cynicism based on hers. As my mother's best friend from childhood put it, I made "poor" marriages, as if the fault lay simply in the way I chose or lived them.

But in my late 40s, and after a long time trying to talk myself out of it, I admitted two things to myself: I didn't like men that way, and I loved a very particular woman. It's hard to make anything other than a poor marriage when you can't make that connection of the heart. When my heart connected to Kathryn's, it all made sense.

As a United Church of Christ pastor, I had long since declared myself an ally for LGBT rights. Now I found myself in the vulnerable position of needing those allies, from among my friends and my family. I found myself in the unexpected position of being the subject of court cases and statewide ballot issues; I found myself in the awkward position of hearing the words I had often preached and applying them to my own situation: You will find your salvation in becoming fully who God made you to be.

I believed it for other people; did I believe it for me?

I found I didn't have a choice. Love moved me like a wave you can't resist; you have to ride it or be bowled over by the surf. Keeping a secret from others, once I had admitted it to myself, didn't feel right. Friends blessed me; my children, from mid-teen to mid-20s, offered their unconditional love and support. After a period of prayerful discernment spurred on by Mr. Dimples' query, we decided to make getting married our priority. We decided to come out to our congregations, and come in to the light, and let the rest of the geographical and vocational logistics fall into place from there.

All that involved not only God and two families and two circles of friends, but it also involved two churches. To the people of the North Yarmouth Congregational Church, United Church of Christ, which I left to be married, I send my love and thanks. Thank you for being so accepting and gracious; thank you for bidding me such an emotionally generous farewell despite mixed feelings about the parting itself. We know we could have stayed right there and lived in my home in Portland, where an elementary school student with two moms in the household hasn't been interesting since about 1995. But the call, as we prayed and prayed further, came to make our lives in my wife's home and in her church. To the people of Mechanicsburg Presbyterian Church (USA), thank you. The ordinary ways you have welcomed the minister's new wife -- including inviting me to join the Fellowship Committee -- have made it clear we followed the right path.

Because we are very ordinary, even old-fashioned. We fell in love, and we got married in church. We had the resources to do it in a state where we could get a legal license, where going to apply for it was extremely ordinary. I pray the Supreme Court will move our nation toward a time when it is ordinary everywhere, when any two people who love each other can come in to a clerk's office and ask for a marriage license. I pray my wife and I do honor to the support shown and the blessings offered, in our coming out and our coming in, as long as we both shall live.