After a decade of war in Iraq and Afghanistan, the soldier’s homecoming kiss is almost a cliché: husband reuniting with wife, girlfriend returning to boyfriend, dad surprising child in her classroom. It’s impossible to watch without becoming emotional, even if TV news producers stage these shots with shameless frequency.
But this picture is different. Marine Sgt. Brandon Morgan is kissing his boyfriend Dalan Wells, on the mouth, his legs wrapped around Wells’ hips. Morgan is in fatigues, but after six months in Afghanistan, he’s the one swept off his feet at the Marine base in Hawaii. A friend shot the picture and posted it on Facebook. It went viral, generating dozens of news stories and tens of thousands of comments.
Most celebrated the happy couple in words as moving as the image: “Welcome home, brother!” “Truly amazing and profound.” “I'm not gay and I'm not a Marine. Just wanted to come here and state that this photo makes me very proud to be an American and very proud of our United States Marines.”
Some, inevitably, rehashed old bigotries veiled as pleas for discretion, or language best paraphrased: Don’t cram it down our throats. Don’t show, don’t tell, don’t dare. And that old standard of sophomoric reaction: “Yuck,” followed by a firing squad of exclamation marks.
Old prejudices never die, especially when the military merely tolerates the post-don’t-ask-don’t-tell normal without quite embracing it.
You won't find this picture or any like it posted on the Department of Defense’s image-rich websites, where it's no small irony that military hardware is displayed with the prurience of porn.
But you should, because this picture is no less heartwarming than countless others that capture more traditional relationships. That it involves two men is no more relevant than if it captured a father and child.
If anything, it has the same iconic feel as Alfred Eisenstaedt’s Life magazine shot of the sailor kissing a nurse in Times Square on V-J Day. Both capture a moment of exuberance and jubilation. Both, in different ways, capture the essence of liberation on a large scale, personified through two beating hearts and two sets of lips.
Brandon Morgan has it right: “This is a homecoming picture. Gay, straight, it doesn't matter who you are. Love is love. We haven't fought for more rights or better rights than others. We fought for equal rights. And now we have them.”
It’s not an exaggeration to say the slow liberation of gays and lesbians from millennia of brutality across most cultures is as monumental a victory as the defeat of fascism.
Victory for gays and lesbians is nowhere complete. Not in the United States and especially not in Florida, where gay-marriage bans are still the rule and triumphs of gay equality the exception. But the picture from Hawaii is one more frame in a narrative fated to a better future.
Pierre Tristam is editor and publisher of FlaglerLive.com, a non-profit news service based in Palm Coast, Fl.
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