If any event marks the day the military’s gay ban was really over, it came last week, when Marine Corps Sgt. Brandon Morgan, in uniform, jumped onto his boyfriend and the two engaged in a passionate kiss at an on-base military-family homecoming.
A friend photographed the embrace, which later was posted on the “Gay Marine” Facebook page and triggered an outpouring of support — and some dissent.
For the armed service’s most tradition-bound service, the one that most opposed lifting the ban last year, the transition seemed complete when a spokeswoman at Marine Corps Base Hawaii told a local TV station, “It’s your typical homecoming photo.”
The gay rights movement is applauding.
“The photo humanizes us who currently serve in the military and are gay,” said Air Force Lt. Josh Seefried, who co-directs the gay military group Outserve. “The excitement around the photo just goes to show how much society has come in realizing that our families are real and matter.
“The photo also visualizes a military couple who doesn’t receive the same benefits and protections other military couples have under the law,” Lt. Seefried said.
Said Zeke Stokes, spokesman for Servicemembers Legal Defense Network, which worked for the gay ban’s repeal: “This photo and the reaction to it once again underscores that the repeal of ‘don’t ask, don’t tell’ is being implemented successfully and is supported widely by the American people.”
“Don’t ask, don’t tell,” or DADT, was the policy adopted during the Clinton administration that allowed gays to serve in the military as long as they did not reveal their sexual orientation and authorities did not inquire about it. It was repealed Sept. 20.
Former Marines contacted by The Times were reluctant to criticize Sgt. Morgan. Some did, but did not want to be quoted on the record.
Former Marine Lt. Ilario Pantano, who fought in the “Triangle of Death” in Iraq, said: “Repealing ‘don’t ask, don’t tell’ was a mistake. I have been on record about this topic from the beginning of the debate, and I am deeply disappointed in both the lawmakers and the troops, from privates to generals, that know better but were silent or even complicit in the decay of our societal or military values.
“The mission of the military is to fight and win wars not appease special interests that have spent millions to lobby for DADT repeal and use the military to force social engineering,” the former lieutenant said.
A spokesman for Marine Gen. James Amos said the commandant would have no comment on the photo.
Gen. Amos spoke out against repeal but has worked to make sure the Corps embraces it after Congress had enacted it. Marine recruiters have been required to attend at least one gay pride event.
The news media, too, generally has celebrated the photo.
ABC found the snapshot so historic that the news organization juxtaposed it with the most famous homecoming picture in U.S. military history — Alfred Eisenstaedt’s photograph for Life magazine of a sailor dipping and kissing a nurse during spontaneous V-J Day celebrations in Times Square on Aug. 14, 1945.
A New York Daily News story began this way:
“A photo of a gay Marine locked in a passionate welcome home kiss with his boyfriend has gone viral, sparking a groundswell of support from backers of the military’s policy of allowing openly gay men and women to serve in the military.”
Positive, negative comments
Sgt. Morgan, returning from six-month deployment in Afghanistan, was engaging in his first kiss with boyfriend Dalan Wells.
“We couldn’t talk, I can barely talk now, his hands went numb, my legs were shaking, our first kiss after just knowing how we felt about each other,” Sgt. Morgan told station KHON2-TV in Honolulu.
Mr. Wells said: “A friend asked, ‘Can we post it on the Gay Marines Facebook page?’ and we said, ‘Oh sure, there’s only 1,000 people on that.’ It wasn’t going to be a very big deal, but then everybody started sharing it. So then that turned into 415 shares the first day, then it’s in the thousands, now it’s everywhere.”
Sgt. Morgan said: “My friend Sgt. Thomas Stivers, he came home and his picture was in the Hawaii Marine [base newspaper] of him kissing his wife and holding his newborn baby that was just born a few days ago. His picture is no different than mine. It is a homecoming picture. Gay, straight, lesbian — no matter who you are, love is love.”
“All my superiors, my staff sergeants, my gunnery sergeants, my lieutenants, my officers, my captains, they’re all very ecstatic and very happy that I had somebody to come home to,” Sgt. Morgan said. “Again, gay or straight, does not matter.”
The “Gay Marine” Facebook page posted the photo Saturday, triggering 41,229 “likes” as of Wednesday afternoon, and 10,020 comments. A sampling shows most are positive.
“This is TRUE bravery!” reads one. “The most insidious enemy we face in the struggle for equality is internalized homophobia. Kudos to any and every one who comes out for any and all to see!!”
But one commenter wrote: “I am a Marine and this does not reflect the Marine Corps at all!! If I was to come back from a deployment and my wife jumped on me like that I’d prolly get my ass chewed because u do not do public displays of affection in uniform. … This guy was just lookin for some attention.”
In an indoctrination slide-show presentation the Pentagon developed last year to prepare troops for the ban’s repeal, one scenario asked: What does a commander do if he sees two male Marines, or of another service, kissing in a shopping mall in civilian clothes?
The slide said the commander should ask, Is this within standards of personal and professional conduct?
The answer: “If the observed behavior crosses acceptable boundaries as defined in the standards of conduct for your unit and the Marine Corps, then an appropriate correction should be made. Your assessment should be made without regard to sexual orientation.”