Our life in 17 photos: A gay sailor’s love story

On a warm fall day nearly two years ago, Dwayne D. Beebe sat anxiously on the edge of the Plaza Fountain in Plaza Ferdinand Park in Old Pensacola, Florida. He was waiting for the arrival of Jonathan Franqui, the man he had met nearly a month before and with whom he found an instant connection. It was their first real date - after over a week of talking on the phone and texting about their lives, learning about each other's families and friends and life aspirations, they were finally meeting up in person. When Jonathan arrived at the park, Dwayne stood up from his seat on the fountain and, without a word, pulled two coins from his pocket. He held them up and said to Jonathan, "The first thing we are going to do is make a wish in this fountain with these two coins." They silently reflected on their wishes, and together, threw them into the water.

Jonathan and Dwayne have never shared with each other their wishes that night. But if their wishes were at all related to something positive and life-changing emerging from their first date, it's safe to say that their wishes have come true. "We've been inseparable since our first date," Jonathan said. "We had an amazing, spontaneous evening together, shared our very first kiss, and saw the beginning of our love and life together begin."

Over the next several months, Dwayne and Jonathan grew continually closer. They especially bonded over their military background. Jonathan was raised in a military household, and for over 20 years, Dwayne has served in the U.S. Navy as a Senior Chief and culinary specialist. "When I was a kid, we moved so much that I really understand what a military life is like," Jonathan explained, noting that his connection to Dwayne is definitely related to their common experiences. "I've always known that I wanted someone who wanted to have a family and wanted to connect with my family. Dwayne needed someone who could understand the military lifestyle and support a life in the military and deal with the transfers and the moves. When we met each other, we saw that we shared that need and those values."

In the past two years, Jonathan and Dwayne have integrated well into each other's families. Dwayne has two children from a previous marriage - 17-year-old Courtney and 19-year-old Brian - and Jonathan's family lives only an hour away from the couple's home together in Gulf Breeze, Florida.

Dwayne and Jonathan were raised on opposite coasts - Dwayne in California and Jonathan in Miami, Florida. In July 2012, Dwayne suggested that they take a trip to San Diego, CA, where Dwayne had previously been stationed at Naval Medical Center San Diego working as a Disability and Transition Counselor for wounded warriors and disabled service members. As they planned out the trip, they realized that they could be in San Diego the same weekend as the city's Pride Parade. On their cross-country road-trip, Dwayne heard from a fellow service member friend that the Department of Defense had given permission for all branches of the military to march in the San Diego Pride Parade wearing their military uniforms. "It was an awesome moment, and I could tell how it affected Dwayne," Jonathan said. "He got so emotional about it." Dwayne told Jonathan in the car, "You have no idea what this really means - this is such a big step and such a big move. I've been in the military for 19 years and lived under Don't Ask, Don't Tell for 18 of those years. This is a huge step moving forward."

Once they arrived in San Diego, Dwayne decided that he wanted to make the parade even more memorable than it already would have been. Dwayne marched in his military dress whites, and toward the end of the parade, after march past 200,000 well-wishers on Harvey Milk Street, he approached Jonathan, who was on the sidelines taking photos. He dropped to one knee, pulled out a box, and opened it for a very shocked Jonathan.

"I knew what was going on, but everything completely stopped," Jonathan explained. "It was one of those moments where time froze, and he asked me three times to marry him, and it took me until the last time for me to actually understand what he was asking." Of course, Jonathan said yes.

The couple decided to host their wedding ceremony in Pensacola, Florida in March 2013 so they could stand in front of their friends and family members and commit their lives to each other. They'll be tying the knot at Old Christ Church in Pensacola.

Their marriage will not be legal in their home state of Florida, but this fall, Jonathan and Dwayne decided that they wanted to travel to a state where same-sex couples have the freedom to marry and get an official marriage license. "We want to have something to present during our wedding ceremony in Florida," Jonathan explained. "I want that power of a certified letter between me and my husband. I want them to fully see and feel that impact. I want them to know that this is not just a relationship - it's a marriage. I want them to know that we are committed to each other, that we've made a promise to each other about our goals and our future together."

That's why they took a trip to Maryland on New Year's Eve to become one of the first same-sex couples to marry in the state when the freedom to marry took effect on January 1, 2013. Dwayne had previously lived in Maryland, and he still owns a house there, so Dwayne and Jonathan married on the first day of marriages for same-sex couples at the Black Walnut Inn, along with six other couples. 

Even though Dwayne and Jonathan are legally married in Maryland, their marriage is not respected in Florida, where same-sex couples do not have the freedom to marry. Their marriage is also not respected by the federal government because of the so-called Defense of Marriage Act, which denies lawfully married same-sex couples access to over 1,100 federal protections and responsibilities that married different-sex couples receive. The anti-gay law has serious ramifications for Dwayne and Jonathan.

"Since DOMA is in place, I'm not viewed as Dwayne's spouse," Jonathan said. "I don't get access to the commissary. I don't get a military ID to go on base. Dwayne's daughter can go twice a week to the base for appointments and dental and medical work, but he has to take off work to pick her up and take her to appointments because I'm not allowed to go on base. I can't fill any of his daughter's prescriptions. I don't get military insurance benefits, meaning I have to pay over $200 extra a month for insurance. DOMA takes a lot out of our pockets and out of our relationship - it means that I can't support Dwayne as a spouse as I should be able to."

DOMA has perhaps most dramatically complicated the couple's life by interfering with their care for Dwayne's mother, who lives with the men in Florida. Four months ago, she was diagnosed with cancer, and because she is dependent on Dwayne's health insurance and does not qualify for off-base health coverage, she is currently being treated at Walter Reed National Medical Center in Bethesda, MD. She has had to have surgery to excise the cancer, and for five weeks, she's been receiving radiation treatments. Just a few weeks ago, Dwayne was transferred to a new duty station in Tennessee, making it difficult for him to care for his mother in Maryland. Jonathan attempted to fill in for his husband by supporting her in the hospital, but because of DOMA, he is not permitted to do so. "If I was considered a spouse," Jonathan explained, "I would have left my job, moved up there, and started caring for her. I could have gone to base with her, taken her to appointments, gone to college online, and gotten a part-time job. But because I'm not considered Dwayne's spouse, I can't do any of that. I can't be there to support my mother-in-law."

Since getting married, Dwayne has attempted to refile Jonathan in the DEERS Military Dependents Program, listing Jonathan as a spouse, but the application was denied due to DOMA and outdated Department of Defense policies, forcing Dwayne to list Jonathan as a friend. Because of this, Jonathan is not allowed to take part in programs designed to make military families stronger - like the Military Spousal Jobs Program, which helps military spouses find employment after transfers. 

Jonathan and Dwayne have fallen in love and have committed their lives together - and they're excited to do so during their wedding ceremony in Pensacola on March 30 with their brothers, sisters, cousins, friends, and Dwayne's son and daughter by their side as groomsmen and attendants. But their marriage deserves legal, official respect - respect that cannot happen until all couples in Florida - and Tennessee, and any other state where Dwayne and Jonathan may move - have the freedom to marry, and until the Defense of Marriage Act is overturned once and for all.

UPDATE: On February 11, 2013, the Pentagon announced revisions to some Department of Defense policies that create unfair hardships for same-sex couples and their families, including the issuance of military ID cards. Freedom to Marry continues to work to overturn DOMA, which requires the continuation of other rules that impose additional hardships on military families, including access to shared health coverage and survivor benefits.  

Marriage matters to Jonathan and Dwayne. It communicates their commitment to each other and their plan to grow old together by each other's side. "Marriage is the ultimate commitment you can make to the person that you love," Jonathan said. "It's important to have that union recognized in your community and in your home and in your family. It's important to us because we say 'I love you' verbally, and we do the same things people do in a marriage, and we want respect for that. We want our community to understand how strong our commitment is to one another - how strong our commitment is to the person we love."

Since May, Freedom to Marry has partnered with OutServe-SLDN on our joint campaign Freedom to Serve, Freedom to Marry to amplify stories of how military families are hurt by the so-called Defense of Marriage Act. Learn more about that campaign HERE, learn more about DOMA HERE, and check out other stories of how DOMA harms real families HERE.