A Navy tradition caught up with the repeal of the U.S. military's "don't ask, don't tell" rule Wednesday when two female sailors became the first to share the coveted "first kiss" on the pier after one of them returned from 80 days at sea.
Petty Officer 2nd Class Marissa Gaeta of Placerville, Calif., descended from the USS Oak Hill amphibious landing ship and shared a quick kiss in the rain with her partner, Petty Officer 3rd Class Citlalic Snell of Los Angeles. Gaeta, 23, wore her Navy dress uniform, while Snell, 22, wore a black leather jacket, scarf and blue jeans. The crowd screamed and waved flags around them.
"It's something new; that's for sure," Gaeta told reporters after the kiss.
"It's nice to be able to be myself. It's been a long time coming."
There was little to differentiate this kiss from countless others when a Navy ship pulls into its home port after a deployment. Neither the Navy nor the couple tried to draw special attention to what was happening, and many onlookers waiting for their loved ones to come off the ship were busy talking among themselves.
Cmdr. David E. Bauer, skipper of the Oak Hill, said Gaeta and Snell's kiss would largely be a non-event, and the crew's reaction upon learning who was selected to have the first kiss was positive.
The ship returned to port after an 80-day deployment to Central America.
The two women, whose duties are called fire control, maintain and operate weapons systems on the ship. They met as roommates during training and have been dating for two years, which they said was difficult under "don't ask, don't tell."
Repeal of the 18-year-old legal provision, under which gays could serve as long as they didn't openly acknowledge their sexual orientation, took effect in September.
"We did have to hide it a lot in the beginning," Snell said. "A lot of people were not always supportive of it in the beginning, but we can finally be honest about who we are in our relationship, so I'm happy."
Navy officials said that it was the first time that a same-sex couple was chosen to kiss first upon a ship's return. Sailors and their loved ones bought $1 raffle tickets for the opportunity. Gaeta said she bought $50 of tickets, a figure that she said pales in comparison to amounts that some other sailors and their loved ones had bought.