Joint command helps Airman jumpstart same-sex marriage

With the help of her command, U.S. Air Force Senior Airman Gabrielle, Joint Intelligence Operations Center, Europe Analytic Center division analyst, began a long process in finding either a U.S. military chaplain, or a minister to officiate the marriage ceremony between her and her fiance, Lucy, around the RAF Molesworth, United Kingdom local area. After months of searching, the couple found a Unitarian church in Cambridge, England. (The last names of personnel have been removed for security purposes) (U.S. Air Force illustration by Staff Sgt. Ashley Hawkins/Released)

With the help of her command, U.S. Air Force Senior Airman Gabrielle, Joint Intelligence Operations Center, Europe Analytic Center division analyst, began a long process in finding either a U.S. military chaplain, or a minister to officiate the marriage ceremony between her and her fiance, Lucy, around the RAF Molesworth, United Kingdom local area. After months of searching, the couple found a Unitarian church in Cambridge, England. (The last names of personnel have been removed for security purposes) (U.S. Air Force illustration by Staff Sgt. Ashley Hawkins/Released)

RAF Molesworth, United Kingdom -- Editor's note: Due to the sensitivity of the joint intelligence mission, the last names of personnel have been removed in this article.

U.S. Air Force Senior Airman Gabrielle knew she wanted to marry Lucy, Anglia Ruskin Peterborough University nursing student, the moment they met.

After six months of dating, Gabrielle, Joint Intelligence Operations Center, Europe Analytic Center division analyst, proposed.

About a year away from the wedding date, the couple began planning.

"The plan is to get married here in England, since [Lucy] grew up here, all of her friends and family are in the area," said Gabrielle. "When I was younger, I went to military school so most of my friends are broken up all across America. They would be flying somewhere no matter what."

With Gabrielle growing up in a Protestant family, the couple decided they wanted a traditional wedding, which became possible after the U.S. Supreme Court deemed section three of the Defense of Marriage Act unconstitutional, making spousal and family benefits available regardless of sexual orientation.

"I came from a 200 year-old church that's also quite liberal," said Gabrielle. "It's very community-based and I'm very used to that. Most people think that because I'm gay I'm not religious, but that's not actually true. I do believe that being married under God is very important."

It turned out knowing the type of wedding they wanted would be the only easy part of the couple's planning.

After calling the RAF Alconbury chapel, Gabrielle learned there were no military chaplains in the U.K. whose endorsers allowed them to officiate same-sex marriage ceremonies.

Among various other options, they offered to let her use the chapel facilities if she could find an off-base minister to perform the ceremony.

With little money to spare, Gabrielle and Lucy couldn't find a minister to marry them. The process took weeks.

"To my knowledge, there was only one church, the Metropolitan Community Church of London, that would actually do it," said Lucy. "But that would mean paying for them to come up here, which is quite expensive."

Confused by the situation, Gabrielle decided to ask for clarification about chaplain policies.

That's when U.S. Marine Corps Gunnery Sgt. Randal, noncommissioned officer in charge of the JAC division, stepped in to help.

"I could tell she was pretty frustrated with the process," Randal said. "From the beginning, it was just to get clarification of all the chapel guidelines out there. It actually turned out to be a really good thing because the chaplains ended up giving us a lot of information."

The chaplains began calling around the local area to find churches that could marry same-sex couples, as well as giving a list of churches for Gabrielle to consider, and working with Randall in reviewing policies.

Randal read through various Air Force Instructions and reviewed chaplain policies to gain knowledge about how the DoD's policies toward DOMA affected same-sex marriages in the Air Force, and what could be done to make sure gay and lesbian U.S. service members could marry in England.

"There was a big learning curve on all sides to understand and to track down the right information, because it isn't readily available yet," said Randal. "I learned a lot about how chaplains handle their procedures and what they can and cannot do. Since this is the first time I've ever had to deal with this type of situation first-hand, it got me more involved with the chaplain's office and more familiar with their policies."
 
Gabrielle continued her research and finally found a church in the area willing to perform same-sex weddings, the Memorial Unitarian Church.

"To be honest, it is a really small church and it is in Cambridge, but at least we found someone," she said. "There is the added bonus that the minister is amazing, and it has become the church we've started going to."

After the couple found a minister, the chaplains continued to help and kept in contact with Randal.

"Speaking to them afterward, they wanted the Unitarian church's information to create a rapport, so if something like this came down in the future, they would have that connection and could handle it with a lot better ease," said Randal.

According to Randal, although frustrating, he considered the entire process a lesson.

"For me, it was just having patience through it all. I think the key to this is it's a learning process for this new policy, (DOMA)," he said. "These procedures are so new that a lot of it is just not there. No one really thought, 'this is going to happen here.'"

Randal recalled a time when he talked with the senior enlisted leader about the situation, and felt proud to be a part of a leadership that would go to lengths to help their own.

"The one thing I did like is even the command was willing to help out," said Randal. "Our master chief even joked, 'If it came down to it, I'll get an online marriage license and marry the both of you.' It was said in a joking manner, but I know if it came down to it he would have really done it. His willingness to go the extra mile was appreciated by the both of us."

According to Gabrielle, the couple don't know what they would have done if her leadership hadn't gotten involved.

"I find relief in the fact that I was lucky enough to have a command that wanted to actively do something to help me," she said. "I would imagine I could've very easily been lost in the system of trying to determine what to do."

After all has been said and done, Randal has hopes for future same-sex couples stationed at Molesworth who want to marry.

"There are avenues out there. Sometimes it takes extra time and patience on the first try," he said. "But hopefully the next go around, someone else's situation should go a little bit smoother with us having to do a bit of leg work on this front end. And I applaud [Gabrielle] on her patience and resiliency through most of this process because it was frustrating."

Gabrielle and Lucy continue to attend the Unitarian church every Sunday, and are currently planning their wedding for the summer of 2015.