It seems just yesterday that "don't ask, don't tell" meant that gay men and women serving in the armed forces had to remain in the closet or risk being discharged from the military. So it's truly amazing that the first gay civil union at an American military installation took place in June. Erwynn Umali, who is in the Air Force, "wed" Will Behrens, a branch manager for a financial firm. The union took take place in New Jersey at a joint military base. Since New Jersey doesn't allow gay marriage, the ceremony was a civil union, not a wedding -- but Erwynn and Will are treating it as such. Said Erwynn to his groom:
Just like I would fight for my country and sacrifice for it, and even die for my country as a member of the Air Force, I would do all of that for you. You are my last love, forever and a day.
Erwynn and Will met at church, and because they are deeply religious and belonged to churches that didn't accept homosexuality, it was a difficult road for them both. Unfortunately for Erwynn and his first and second wives, and Will and his wife, that meant also meant three collapsed marriages because of the homosexuality neither one could bring themselves to accept. Both have dealt with being alienated by their families after their coming out.
But the military had been overwhelmingly supportive. Says Erwynn: "I never thought I’d be able dance with a man like this on a military installation."
But before "don't ask, don't tell" was repealed, the men lived in fear of being found out. They even suspected that some members of their church were following them, taking photos, and planned to report them to Erwynn's superiors.
In the summer of 2011, knowing the DADT repeal was only months away, Will got down on one knee and proposed. Erwynn says coming out on base was much easier than coming out in their church, which preached against homosexuality.
Erwynn says when he came out on base, he stood before 40 servicemen and women and thanked his fiance, Will. There was dead silence. And then deafening applause. One more reason to be proud of our troops.
What do you think of Erwynn and Will's military base ceremony?
Image via Charles McCain/Flickr