Collegedale's decision to grant benefits to same-sex couples was a victory for Kat Cooper, a gay detective who championed the months-long effort that made the Chattanooga suburb the first city in Tennessee to offer benefits to same-sex spouses of its government employees.
Cooper's mother, Linda, stood by her side throughout the process. She held tight to her daughter's hand at a July meeting over the issue. And the two embraced after the City Council's 4-1 vote on Aug. 5.
But those small acts of support translated into collateral damage that left Linda Cooper and other relatives separated from their church family of more than 60 years. And one local advocate for gay families says the church's stance was the most extreme he's heard of in years.
Leaders at Ridgedale Church of Christ met in private with Kat Cooper's mother, aunt and uncle on Sunday after the regular worship service. They were given an ultimatum: They could repent for their sins and ask forgiveness in front of the congregation. Or leave the church.
"My mother was up here and she sat beside me. That's it," said Kat Cooper. "Literally, they're exiling members for unconditionally loving their children -- and even extended family members."
But the family's support of Kat Cooper was as good as an endorsement of homosexuality, said Ken Willis, minister at Ridgedale Church of Christ.