Fort Bragg, one of the nation’s top military bases, hosted its first celebration of a same-sex relationship Saturday, with a ceremony blessing the union of Army Maj. Daniel Toven and Johnathan Taylor.
The ceremony was not technically a wedding, as same-sex marriage is not legally recognized in North Carolina, where Fort Bragg is located. The couple had wed in August in Washington, D.C., which does offer legal marriages to gay couples. But the Rev. Harry Abernathy conducted an Episcopal ritual of blessing, similar to a marriage ceremony, for Toven and Taylor at Fort Bragg’s chapel, reports The Fayetteville Observer. “He added that the couple’s relationship was a sign of God’s love,” the paper notes.
About 100 relatives and friends of the couple attended, including some notable military members. Among the latter were Lt. Col. Heather Mack and her wife, Ashley Broadway, who fought to have Broadway admitted to the Fort Bragg Officers’ Spouses Club, and Staff Sgt. Tracy Johnson, the first same-sex war widow in the U.S. military; her wife, Staff Sgt. Donna Johnson, was killed in Afghanistan in 2012.
Toven, a former music student, joined the Army in 2003 and now leads a military band. Taylor is a nurse at Cape Fear Valley Medical Center. Toven said the ceremony was “a dream come true.”
“It was my hope that someday before I retired that I might see the repeal of don’t ask, don’t tell,” he told the Observer. “This? I never imagined in a million years. It’s a dream come true.”
His husband acknowledged the historic nature of their ceremony. “We’d be lying if we said we did not think about it,” Taylor said. “But it says a lot about the wonderful place we’re at.”
Fort Bragg is one of the largest U.S. Army bases in the world and is the headquarters of the Army’s airborne and Special Operations forces.
The couple’s wedding was covered on the front page of the Fayetteville paper, with a photo of them kissing under crossed sabers, a common practice at military weddings. The paper received a mix of positive and negative comments about the coverage, to which editor Michael Adams responded on the Observer website today.
He acknowledged that “for some people, the very idea of homosexual marriage is appalling,” but said the rapid changes in acceptance of gay people made the story highly newsworthy. “Whether people celebrate the changes or condemn them, it is our responsibility as a newspaper to report them,” he wrote. Of the image, he added, “No photo tells the story more clearly.”
Watch a video of the moment below.