On a summer evening in a previous century, Garrett Foster, then 27, summoned up his courage and entered a gay bar for the first time. At the Brook in Westport, Conn., which, until it closed, was the oldest continually operating gay bar in the country, he laid eyes on Brian Murray, then 31. Mr. Murray had once been a regular, but that was his first night there in a while. Their connection was immediate.
“I knew I was going to spend my life with this man,” Mr. Foster said. What he couldn’t have guessed, was that he would legally marry him someday.
Mr. Foster had already won a Daytime Emmy Award for soap opera writing for “As the World Turns” and “Guiding Light,” and then was the editor in chief of Soap Opera Magazine. Now 58, he is an interfaith minister. Mr. Murray, 62, is a retired small-business owner (one was a store that sold ice cream and tropical gifts and the other was a paint-your-own pottery studio).
Within the first six months of meeting each other on July 13, 1990, they moved in together, living in the basement apartment of Mr. Murray’s sister’s home. After a year, they settled in Delray Beach, Fla.
On their 10th anniversary, they bought rings in Key West, Fla., and gave them to each other.
Mr. Foster, who is ordained through the One Spirit Learning Alliance in Manhattan, estimates he has presided over at least 50 weddings, a good number of them between same-sex couples. But when it came to getting married himself, it was another matter. “What held me back was my own inner homophobia,” he said, noting it took years before he could think about calling Mr. Murray “my husband.”
For many years, the two worked together in real estate, flipping houses.
“We’ve done amazing things I could never have done on my own,” Mr. Murray said, noting they each oversaw the parts they were well-suited for. “Even though we’re total opposites, everything really worked well for us.”
They also traveled widely, with Mr. Foster’s more adventurous side insisting they rely on public transportation in foreign cities.
They also adopted more than their share of rescue pets. “Brian is such a kind person,” Mr. Foster said. “He will go out and get flowers and put them all throughout our house, but also bring them to the old ladies in the neighborhood. He also believes in me so much, whether it’s my writing or becoming ordained.”
And once, they considered separating. Or, at least, Mr. Foster did. He temporarily moved out, and they even consulted a lawyer.
“Are you sure you want to do this?” the lawyer asked. “You two look more in love than most I see.”
The lawyer knew of what he spoke.
“I always knew he’d come back,” Mr. Murray said.
Over three decades, Mr. Foster has had three different bouts with cancer. Last year, Mr. Murray had his own cancer scare.
After all they had been through together, the pandemic made them realize it was finally time. But they didn’t want all the fuss of a wedding.
They decided an elopement was more in line with their wishes. They married July 13 — 31 years to the day that they first met — at a public garden in the Truman Annex neighborhood in Key West, with only one other couple present.
They both wore pink shorts — Mr. Murray’s a few shades darker than Mr. Foster’s — white shirts and sneakers. Mr. Foster wrote the ceremony himself.
“I’ve been to a lot of his weddings, and didn’t want someone else writing our ceremony,” Mr. Murray said.
In it, the officiant, Michael Vernon, ordained through the Universal Life Church, said they both agreed that legalizing their union meant “that all those people who told us when we were growing up that we couldn’t be gay and live happily ever after were so mistaken.”
A bell was rung three times at the start, to create sacred space. The bell was rung again before the men exchanged vows, and then each groom rang it while making a wish for their shared lives.
The bell will now have a prominent place in their home.
“Whenever you are at an impasse, either of you should ring it to call a truce,” Mr. Vernon said. “Whenever you are filled with gratitude for your life together, you should ring it to celebrate your love for one another. When you hear the beautiful sound, you will immediately return to this day when your promises and wishes were made.”