In the U.S. Navy, there's a tradition in which one sailor leaves the ship first to kiss his loved one on the dock. The homecoming kiss from the just-docked USS Oak Hill on Wednesday was a little less traditional, when two female sailors — Petty Officer 2nd Class Marissa Gaeta, 23, and Petty Officer 3rd Class Citlalic Snell, 22 — briefly locked lips in front of cameras, in the first same-sex "first kiss" of the post-"don't ask, don't tell" era. (See the image at right and below.) "It's something new, that's for sure," said Gaeta, who had just spent 80 days aboard the USS Oak Hill. "It's nice to be able to be myself. It's been a long time coming." Here's the story of the "precedent-shattering event":
How do ships pick who gets the first kiss?
Typically, the sailor is picked by raffle. That was the case aboard the USS Oak Hill. Gaeta says she bought 50 of the $1 raffle tickets, and suspects that her crew-mates purchased a few more on her behalf. That's not necessarily ballot-stuffing — Gaeta says she knows of sailors who each bought more than 100 tickets. "I think it was meant to be," says Snell. Navy officials say this is the first time on record that a same-sex couple was tapped for the first homecoming kiss.
What's Gaeta and Snell's story?
They met right after boot camp, when they were roommates at their first training school to become fire controlmen — sailors who maintain and control onboard weapons systems. They've been dating ever since, a little more than two years. Gaeta says she considers Snell her wife, though they aren't legally married. Gaeta is a fire controlman on the Oak Hill and Snell serves on the USS Bainbridge, briefly famous for helping rescue U.S. cargo ship captain Richard Phillips from Somali pirates in 2009.
How did people react to a lesbian first kiss?
The crowd that had gathered to greet their own loved ones cheered and waved flags at the kissing couple. But neither the Navy nor the couple tried to draw attention to the kiss — the media on the scene only found out right before the kiss that the designated couple was made up of two women. The crew of the USS Oak Hill reacted positively to Gaeta winning the coveted first kiss honors, too, says its commanding officer, David Bauer. "It's going to happen and the crew's going to enjoy it," he said before the kiss. "We're going to move on and it won't overshadow the great things that this crew has accomplished over the past three months." Don't expect this to be the last same-sex homecoming kiss, says Gaeta. "I think that it's something that is going to open a lot of doors, for not just our relationship, but all the other gay and lesbian relationships that are in the military now."