On January 13 of this year, history took place at the West Point Cadet Chapel when Captain Daniel Hall and Captain Vincent Franchino wed in front of 150 of their closest family and friends.
Although this was not the first same-gender marriage to have occurred at the United States Military Academy, it was the first between two openly gay, active duty members of the armed forces. Both men are captains and Apache helicopter pilots. This fact makes Hall and Franchino’s union truly remarkable, opening a new epoch for the LGBTQ community within the U.S. military.
For most of recent history, the mindset toward LGBTQ service members has been that they are not fit to serve. This perception arose around WWII. Before that time, homosexual acts were seen as the issue, but new research in psychology shifted attention to the persons engaging in those acts. Suddenly, identifying as gay or bisexual, even if one never acted on their sexuality, was grounds for discharge.
During WWII itself, when the military needed every able-bodied man available, the rules around LGBTQ service members were relaxed. The leniency was off the books, an effect of recruiters asking fewer questions and turning a blind eye rather than a sign of progressive policy. Unsurprisingly, as soon as the war ended, the policies around LGBTQ service members were again tightened.
Although this same pattern of easing strictness in wartime continued throughout the 20th century, the overwhelming trend has been consistent discrimination against LGBTQ military personnel. In the 90s it looked like this might improve. As Bill Clinton got ready to be sworn in as the new president, the public cried for equal treatment of gay and lesbian individuals in the military.
Clinton entered the White House saying that he would overturn the discriminatory protocols faced by LGBTQ military personnel, but was quickly met with resistance on the issue. As a way of compromise, “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” was passed. Under this law, potential service members were not allowed to be screened based on their sexuality, but they were also forbidden from serving as openly homosexual, bisexual, or trans. The policy was touted as being better for everyone, yet it required gay military personnel to hide parts of themselves for fear of discrimination, namely the possibility of losing their jobs.
When Hall and Franchino met at West Point in 2009, “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” was still the policy. They hit it off and became friends, but despite mutual attraction, could not start a relationship. In fact, the need to hide their gayness was so ingrained that they both found out about the other’s sexuality from friends.
Then, in September 2011, the Obama administration officially repealed “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” and a few months later the two men went on their first date. Like any love story, there have been bumps along the way, and for these two the bumps have included issues that are particular to military couples. Hall has been sent on multiple deployments around the world, including a stint in South Korea that almost did the couple in.
This deployment occurred only a few months after they were able to come out, so the relationship was still fresh. The stress of long distance and the repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” proved to be too much for Franchino, and they decided to see other people. However, they were unable to stay away from each other and began dating again the following November. They have been together ever since.
The difficulties of making a relationship work are not the only hardships that these two have had to overcome.
When speaking with the New York Times, Captain Franchino said, “We’ve experienced everything from people feeling awkward around us to being called faggots while holding hands.” Still, they would rather make others uncomfortable than go back to living the lie that their career paths required of them until recently.
“Despite what we’ve been through, nothing was worse than having served during the ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ years,” he continued.
At their wedding, Captains Hall and Franchino were decked out in their military finest. They cut the cake with Hall’s officer saber and were given the honor of a saber-arch salute by the 34 other military personnel in attendance. They could be themselves fully, both military men and proud gay men at once.
Wanting to serve this country does not only appeal to a certain demographic or cookie-cutter identity. It is not dictated by race, gender, or sexual orientation, yet for so long this country has wanted that to be the case. What is truly amazing is that to individuals like Hall and Franchino, serving is so important that they were willing to put their personal comfort and self-expression on the back burner. We should rejoice that this is no longer the necessary for them, but not forget that for many, in particular the transgender community, the struggle to be out and open while serving their country is still very real.