Tech Sargent Erwynn Umali and his boyfriend Will Behrens sealed their commitment to each other in a civil union in New Jersey, choosing an unusual spot — a military base.
The New York Daily News reports that when the two grooms said their vows on June 23rd, at the chapel of Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst, they became the event became the first publicly announced civil union or gay marriage held at a military base in the U.S.
Umali, who is an active-duty serviceman in the Air Force stated on Wednesday that:
“It’s a struggle that Will and I have gone through and so many people are going through. Now I can introduce Will as my partner or my husband instead of my friend or my boyfriend. We don’t have to live in fear.”
Their wedding was attended by 150 friends and family, which included men in Umali’s unit, who were very supportive when the serviceman came out to them. The ceremony, as well as Umali’s acknowledgement as being gay, were unthinkable just nine months ago, according to Yahoo News, who reports that the law that forced them to keep their relationship secret was repealed then.
Umali stated in an interview on Facebook chat that:
“We asked [about holding the ceremony on the base], and they were very open about it, but [said], ‘No one has ever asked us this question before.’ We did not get any push back from the base or leadership. All they asked was that we be patient because this was the very first one.”
The Daily Mail reports that both men grew up in devoutly religious families and both married women who gave birth to two children. However, each felt that their life was missing something, and eventually divorced their wives.
The two met in 2008, and as their relationship became closer, the two became more and more confused about their feelings for each other. In 2009, they gave up pretending to be straight and began a relationship. But their families were not supportive. Behrens family became increasingly suspicious of the two, worrying that Umali was pulling him away from the church.
On February 17, 2010, Behrens came home to see relatives’ cars lining the street. When they asked him about his relationship with Umali, he admitted to the truth, but fled to Umali’s home after feeling like they were attempting to “cure him,” reports The Daily Mail.
While neither man’s parents attended the June ceremony, their four children were present to see their dads say “I do,” before joining them on the dance floor after their first dance. Behrens and Umali now live happily in their three-bedroom townhouse just 20 minutes from McGuire-Dix. Their children, who all live out-of-state with their mothers, regularly visit their home.