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.”
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 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!