In just under a week, a photo of a Marine sergeant kissing his boyfriend after returning from a six-month deployment to Afghanistan has been “liked” on Facebook more than 42,000 times and garnered more than 10,000 comments — most of them supportive.
Sgt. Brandon Morgan, a 25-year-old from Oakdale, Calif., returned to Marine Corps Base Hawaii on Feb. 22 from his third deployment in four years and was met by his boyfriend, Dalan Wells.
A friend snapped the photo, which depicts Morgan with his legs wrapped around Wells, an American flag in the background.
It was later posted on the “Gay Marines” Facebook page; from there, the photo went viral.
“It’s a homecoming picture — gay, straight, lesbian, no matter who you are, love is love,” Morgan told Hawaii TV station KHON. “We haven’t fought for more rights or better rights than others. We fought for equal rights, and now we have them.”
Homecoming photos of military members are common, but Morgan and Wells’ photo is among the first showing a gay couple expressing affection since the repeal of the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy five months ago.
In December, two female sailors in Norfolk, Va., shared a homecoming kiss that landed on the front page of some U.S. newspapers, including the Seattle Times and the Virginian-Pilot. The two had been chosen by raffle for the Navy’s “first kiss” honor, and the ship’s commanding officer said at the time that the crew’s reaction was positive.
That media coverage led to a barrage of commentary — both positive and negative. But in Morgan’s case, the photo was circulated largely without the help of print media, with thousands of people sharing the photo and with blog posts calling attention to it.
Morgan told the Associated Press he didn’t intend the photograph to go viral and that he looks forward to such homecomings becoming commonplace.
“We all know this will die down and become the norm. It is the norm — everyone is allowed, no matter who you are, to have a homecoming now,” he told the wire service.
The founder of the Facebook page, Brett Edward Stout, a former Marine, posted a video message after the photo began circulating. He explained that the page, created while the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy was still in place, was intended to give gay military members a voice.
“What I didn’t expect was that the page did have one last role to play in the ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ fight: closure,” Stout said. The photo of Morgan and Wells, he said struck “close to home” and gave gay military members “catharsis.”