They wanted to wait to get married when it would be valid throughout the U.S., but they feared how long that still might be. So, this past February, Dr. Eugene M. Thomas and his longtime partner, Rev. Gordon R. McCoy, had a civil union.
Ironically, though, the whole idea was rather casual and kind of spontaneous.
"We had been talking about marriage generally and Gordon said, 'Well, would you like to get married, then?" said Thomas, who replied, "Yes."
"Gordon then said, 'I think I just proposed.'
"Gordon is a rather formal person and seemed to feel that his proposal wasn't very romantic. I was more impressed that he really meant what he had said. We were sitting at our dining room table and were just talking. We continued to talk and discussed [the subject.]"
Their civil union was held at aChurch4me Metropolitan Community Church (MCC) in Rogers Park.
Naturally, they want to be married in Illinois.
"I only ever envisioned same-sex marriage in Illinois after President Obama came out for same-sex marriage in the state where he has been senator," Thomas said.
Thomas is on the MCC church board of servants and a retired professor at Loyola University Chicago. He enjoys watching professional tennis, reading mystery fiction, and traveling, often by train.
McCoy was a pastor and network lead in MCC, though now retired. He enjoys reading gay fiction and history; and years ago in college, he learned how to play the bagpipes and was in a bagpipe band for three years.
The two were introduced by a mutual friend while waiting for a Metra Electric train, then called the I.C., McCoy said, en route to a civil rights rally downtown.
They have since been together for 42 years.
"I would say we are just very comfortable and compatible with each other," McCoy said.
McCoy has been officiating Holy Unions through MCC since 1981.
"Though we celebrated many anniversaries with friends, we never actually had our own official Holy Union, let alone a civil union or fully legal marriage. We know who we are, and we know our relationship is valid in the eyes of God, so what else matters?" McCoy said. "But then this year we did have our civil union, and now we appreciate the importance of legal validation too."
McCoy was originally trained for the professional ministry in the Presbyterian Church back in the 1960s, and served three churches in that communion, but then left. "I stayed away from all churches for 10 years, then, in the 1970s walked into a Metropolitan Community Church," he said. "I converted to MCC and began serving as a pastor in 1985. More recently I have mainly served as the network leader for MCC's North Central US Network which covers 12 churches in six states. I just retired, effective this [spring]."
Thomas has been involved with MCC since the 1970s; he was involved with the Church of God In Christ during his youth and early adult life. He said MCC "seemed to be a natural choice since both Gordon and I were looking for a 'church home,'" he said.
"I have served on several church boards and currently serve on the board of aChurch4me, my current church home. Serving for several years on the Board of Ordained Ministers, which constituted the final committee for persons seeking ordination in MCC was a great experience. Currently I serve on the Board of Servants, The Stewardship Team and the Community Care Team at my church."
MCC is celebrating 40-plus years of ministry to the LGBT community and beyond. Its 25th General Conference is July 1-5 in Chicago, which will attract worldwide attendees to worship and celebrate God's all-inclusive love, according to the MCC website.
At the conference, there are educational opportunities and more, workshops and plenary sessions. There also are Bible studies and worship sessions.
The theme for the conference is "Believe," which comes from John 17:23: Then the world might believe, that you, in fact, sent me.
"The 25th MCC Conference promises to be an historic occasion for several reasons," Thomas said. "Thousands are reportedly planning to come, and this will be a great time to see and hear our current leader, Rev. Dr. Nancy Wilson, and our founder, Rev. Elder Troy Perry, both of whom are greatly respected. The conference will allow many to attend numerous religious services, workshops and other religious involvements.
"The most significant role for myself at the 25th MCC Conference will be to lead a 'Pastors Spouse' session with a respected lady co-lead, Ms. Mary Woodruff. This workshop will seeks to give pastoral spouses a chance to meet and greet one another and briefly talk about their lives with their respective MCC pastor spouse."
This is the first time MCC's international General Conference has ever been held in Chicago. "People are coming from over a dozen countries and we have sold out the Millennium Fairmont with over 1,000 persons registered, not to mention spouses and friends who are coming for the enjoyment of the city and for the evening worship services which are open to all without registration," McCoy said. "I'm especially looking forward to meeting the delegates from Latin America where MCC has been growing like wildfire.
"I've been serving on MCC's Conference Core Team mainly as the local guy who presumably knows something about Chicago and has utilized my role as network lead to work with the 20 or so other leads in ensuring people know about travel tips and other hospitality issues. As the conference gets under way, I will be at the hospitality table."
Thomas naturally points to MCC as one of the reasons for their long life together.
"I think our involvement with MCC has been of great help," he said. "We both came from families that were religious and our parents were role models, showing and demonstrating respect and devotion to one another. We both have had leadership roles for several years in church and our respective professions and there has been an unwritten expectation I feel from ourselves and others that we have been somewhat of a role model, especially as concerns mixed race couples. I would say we are just very comfortable and compatible with each other in that we have a love and respect for education, the arts, music and travel."
So what's ahead for the two?
Retirement, of course, anchored by their favorite pastime: traveling, including in Europe. Plus, both want to attend the Wimbledon Championships.
"Professionally, I, and perhaps both of us, will continue our several board involvements which include our train board associated with Amtrak, and several professional boards which for myself include Social Welfare and Agency board," Thomas said.
McCoy added, "I'll be continuing my involvement with MCC on a volunteer basis and am looking forward to the Grant Park Music Festival. Eugene bought us tickets for my birthday and I can't wait to go. Then we will be doing some traveling by train to see some friends in Toronto."
For more about the conference, see believe.mccchurch.org .