HONOLULU (AP) — Sgt. Brandon Morgan didn't expect to become a global phenomenon when he kissed his partner upon returning from a six-month deployment to Afghanistan.
But then last weekend a friend posted a photo of their embrace on the Gay Marines page on Facebook. Morgan, in desert camouflage, is seen wrapping his legs around Dalan Wells' legs. A large American flag, draped floor to ceiling inside an aircraft hangar at a Marine base in Hawaii, is in the background.
Photos of exuberant servicemen and homecomings aren't new. But this one, taken some five months after the repeal of the military's "don't ask, don't tell" policy prohibiting gay servicemen from openly acknowledging their sexuality, is among the first showing a gay active duty serviceman in uniform kissing his partner at a homecoming.
More than 40,000 people have clicked the "like" button for the photo on Facebook, and thousands have shared it with their friends on several social media sites. Journalists are inundating Morgan with interview requests, and supporters from as far away as Italy are flooding his inbox with messages of thanks and encouragement.
The 25-year-old from Oakdale, Calif., said it was "a great moment in history" but he really just wanted to show his love to Wells when he landed in Hawaii on Feb. 22.
"I'm so honored to be part of something that people have fought so hard for in Congress, the White House and the military. But when it comes down to it, we didn't intend for this go to worldwide. We were just happy to be together," Morgan said Thursday in a telephone interview.
They didn't intend to promote the photo. A friend who was there for the homecoming, David Lewis, snapped the shot with his iPhone. He said he would have used his Canon if he knew the picture was going to get so much attention.
Two female Navy sailors shared the first same-sex military homecoming kiss in December when one returned home to Virginia after 80 days at sea.
Morgan said he looks forward to the day when such greetings are so commonplace they don't make news.
"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 said.
Many of the more than 10,000 comments on the Gay Marine page's posting of the photo page celebrated the image.
Luis Perez wrote "Best to you and your loved ones. You inspire so many people with your bravery, including this wonderful homecoming."
Few disparaged Morgan for kissing a man. The critical comments generally questioned the appropriateness of a Marine in uniform wrapping his legs around a partner.
Feedback from fellow Marines has been positive too, Morgan said, though he has some regret for jumping on Wells. He called that "excess amount of public display of affection." His superiors have talked to him about it, he said, and he agrees he went a little too far. The Marines have rules, even at homecomings, Morgan said.
"I love him so much. It was my chance to show him how much I love him openly. But then again, I'm still a Marine," he said.