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Air Force Sgt. Erwynn Umali Weds Will Behrens on Military Base in New Jersey

Air Force Sgt. Erwynn Umali Weds Will Behrens on Military Base in New Jersey

by Karen Ocamb on June 24, 2012

Air Force Sgt. Erwynn Umali poses with his husband Will Behrens in the chapel at Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst in New Jersey after their June 23, 2012 wedding (Photo by Jeff Sheng)

Technically, since only six states and Washington DC permit same sex marriage, the ceremony for Air Force Sgt. Erwynn Umali and Will Behrens held Saturday, June 23 at Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst was a civil union, not a wedding. But looking at their faces and the joy of presiding Navy Chaplain Kay Reeb of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America – and it’s hard to image the occasion as anything other than a commitment of marriage.

In a statement after the ceremony, AP reported the couple as saying:

“We are so honored to be a part of this historic moment to be one of the first gay couples allowed to unite in a civil union on a military base. We hope to be an inspiration to others in the LGBT community that struggle with the challenge of marriage equality. And that this issue is not just about the military, but the equal sacrifice and shared burdens of our loved ones who are civilians.”

Reeb, who also serves on the military base in Wrightstown, New Jersey, told AP: “I told them the same thing I tell every couple — love each other and trust in each other and in God, that’s what keeps us together.”

Wedding of Air Force Sgt. Erwynn Umali and Will Behrens held Saturday, June 23 at Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst with Navy Chaplain Kay Reeb of the Evangelical Lutheran Church officiating (Photo posted by former Marine Staff Sgt. Eric Alva on Facebook)

OutServe Co-Director Josh Seefried said in a statement:

“We congratulate Will and Erwynn on today’s joyful ceremony. Our best wishes go to the entire Umali-Behrens family – as well as our gratitude for their courage in sharing this extraordinary event with all of us.

In addition, we want to recognize the tremendous support of the Joint Base MDL family, especially our chaplains. Not just the chaplain who presided over the ceremony, but all of the Joint Base chaplains exemplify the highest ideals of the military chaplaincy, serving their airman, soldiers, and sailors with caring, compassion, and commitment. Their dedication to service made this historic event possible.”

OutServe Communications Director Brenda S. “Sue” Fulton, a former Army Captain, added:

“We don’t know how many same-sex religious ceremonies have already occurred on military bases. Most will be done very privately, and we respect the right of couples to share this moment with their chaplain, their families, and friends, without fear of public outcry. However, the willingness of Will and Erwynn to share this moment publicly is testament to their courage, and the awareness that by being visible, they make it easier for others to celebrate their religious freedom without fear. This is a historic event, precisely because future weddings like theirs will not bear the burden of history, or the risk of ugly backlash from extremists.”

Former Marine Staff Sgt. Eric Alva, the first U.S. service member seriously injured in the Iraq War, also attended the ceremony held in the base’s chapel. “It’s blessing for me to be here today,” Avila told AP. “A historic event like this shows that progress is being made.”

Air Force Sgt. Erwynn Umali feeds his husband Will Behrens wedding cake after the ceremony (Photo by Tom Carpenter on Facebook)

Air Force Capt. Ryan Quinn, who also attended the event, told AP he was “amazed by the beauty” of the ceremony:

“I really do think this is an important event. And I was happy to be here with them and their families….The amount of support I’ve seen for them from the people (at the base) and the military community makes me proud to serve in the Air Force.”

No doubt this wedding ceremony officiated by a Navy Chaplain in a chapel on a military base will send the Religious Right into a dither. They’ll probably get all worked up over how this is not a “real” marriage and probably something about violating religious liberties. Well, just because the state of New Jersey doesn’t yet recognize legal civil marriage for same sex couples doesn’t mean that in the eyes of God and their friends and family, this loving couple is not wedded. And bless Navy Chaplain Kay Reeb who actively – and in these times of entrenched antigay Christian fundamentalism – courageously demonstrates that the military can be as egalitarian as its’ promise and that “religious liberty” by definition includes religious people who believe God is about love and inclusion, not hate and division.

Congratulations to the wedded couple!

{ 5 trackbacks }

Equality Roundup: Pride in California / Equality across the U.S. | EQCA Blog
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60 Reasons to be Proud in 2012 — The Good Men Project
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{ 19 comments… read them below or add one }

Regan D. June 24, 2012 at 10:46 AM

Yay! More love in the world! Best wishes to the happy couple!


Tom Carpenter June 24, 2012 at 1:16 PM

Members of the Forum on the Military Chaplaincy salute and support Navy Chaplain LCDR Kay Reeb in carrying out her constitutional duty to “Perform or provide” the religious rites requested by Air Force Tech. Sgt. Erwynn Umali and his partner, Will Behrens. LCDR Reeb’s denomination and endorser, the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, celebrates the love shared by this couple and blesses this relationship. This wedding is precisely what the free exercise of religion is all about.


Chaplain (COL) Paul Dodd June 24, 2012 at 11:19 PM

Karen, thank you for another great article, and for honoring this wonderful couple and their chaplains who celebrated this historic event. I do disagree somewhat with your suggestion that this was not a “wedding.” It was not a civil marriage under the laws of New Jersey, but it certainly was the celebration of a remarkable wedding. By definition, weddings are ceremonies, most often celebrated in places of worship. The state does not do weddings, at least not in this country, though the state does authorize civil marriage, or in this case, a civil union. Simply put, the wedding is the service or ceremony whereby the covenant is ritually formalized. In any case, I rejoice with Erwynn and Will, and wish them and their family many years of happiness and joy. Shalom, Paul


Karen Ocamb June 25, 2012 at 6:42 AM

Thank you for your kind words about me, sir. I’m an Air Force “brat” – my father was a Colonel – so I have respect for the institution’s principles of the honor, courage and service.

However – I must disagree with your disagreement with me: the whole point of the piece is that Sgt. Erwynn Umali married Will Behrens in a wedding ceremony officiated by a military chaplain on a military base. The state of New Jersey might not (yet) recognize their commitment to each other as a legal civil marriage – but I bet they see it that way themselves and call each other “husband” – not my civil-unionized partner.

And heterosexuals don’t have to jump through these legal and language hoops to describe their loving commitment to each other – which underscores how unequal we still are. Thanks – Karen O.


Steve June 25, 2012 at 10:53 AM

That’s true, but in the article you basically said “it’s not a wedding, but a civil union”. There you conflated the terms “wedding” and “marriage” which are two different things. One a ceremony and one is the legal state of being married. You can have either of those two without the other.


Michael Bedwell June 25, 2012 at 7:34 AM

Correct word choice is such a challenge in these things. One MSM story made the distinction that they had gotten a marriage license in New York, therefore, they ARE “married” albeit not recognized as such in the state the ceremony was conducted in. Could you please attempt to verify if this is true, Karen? [Given how often the AP gets facts wrong, that they "quote" the couple calling it a "civil union" means nothing.]

As for so-called “OutServe Communications Director Brenda S. ‘Sue’ Fulton,” GREAT job of putting the “fear of public outcry [and] risk of ugly backlash from extremists” in EVERY OTHER COUPLE who MIGHT have had the courage to NOT stay in the closet that Ms. Fulton seems to willfully chained to but, rather, continue to positively help make gay and lesbian service members visible—something extremely necessary if the continuing arbitrary discrimination policies of the Pentagon are to be overcome. So could someone please remind her that her group is called OUTserve? OF COURSE, each individual and couple has the “right” to do whatever they choose, but thank Goddess others had the courage Fulton never had when she was in the Army herself or the ban would NEVER have ended. Perhaps it’s time the VA started treating “PCSD”—Post Closet Stress Disorder—until then I fear this “spokesperson” will continue misspeaking.


Karen Ocamb June 25, 2012 at 8:37 AM

Michael – I don’t appreciate you going off on Sue Fulton like that. You’ve been following this effort for a long time and you KNOW there is a “risk of an ugly backlash from extremists.” She can speak for herself, of course, but in my experience working with Sue, she has done everything to both accommodate my requests as a journalist AND serve the members of OutServe, according to THEIR wishes. Frankly, your comments comes off as extremely sexist.


Steve June 25, 2012 at 10:45 AM

It’s certainly a wedding. A wedding is just a ceremony. It’s not a marriage, which is the legal state of being married. But you can call any similar ceremony, whether it’s a commitment ceremony or a civil union a “wedding”


Me July 8, 2012 at 9:00 PM

It’s nice that they are married or civil union w.e you wanna call it. Does it really make it a hug deal it’s a wedding no matter how others look at it ??!


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