A public embrace between two female sailors from California is being hailed as "the kiss heard 'round the world" by activists who fought for a repeal of the ban on gays and lesbians serving openly in the military.
Petty Officer 2nd Class Marissa Gaeta from Placerville shared a kiss with partner Petty Officer 3rd Class Citlalic Snell of Los Angeles on Wednesday as Gaeta's ship, the amphibious landing ship Oak Hill, returned to base at Virginia Beach, Va., after an 80-day deployment to Central America.
"It's something new, that's for sure," Gaeta, 23, told reporters after the kiss. "It's nice to be able to be myself. It's been a long time coming."
The two met while training to maintain and operate weapons systems aboard ship. They've been dating for two years.
"We did have to hide it a lot in the beginning," said Snell, 22, in an Associated Press story. "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."
Gaeta was chosen to have the honor of the "first kiss" as part of a raffle in which sailors bought $1 tickets to raise funds for a Christmas party for military children. Gaeta said she bought $50 worth of tickets.
Navy officials said it was the first time a same-sex couple was chosen to have the first kiss. The first-kiss is a Navy tradition for ships returning to port.
David Bauer, the commanding officer of the Oak Hill, said the crew's reaction was positive when learning that Gaeta and Snell would have the first kiss. Before the kiss took place, he told AP: "It's going to happen and the crew's going to enjoy it."
The ship returned to the Joint Expeditionary Base Little Creek-Ft. Story.
Zeke Stokes, an official with the Servicemembers Legal Defense Network, a leader in the successful effort for repeal of the "don't ask/don't tell" policy, said the kiss shows that gay and lesbian service members are being accepted by their colleagues.
"It's a kiss heard 'round the world,'" Stokes told The Times. "It's an appropriate image for the American consciousness -- showing that gays and lesbians are serving openly and respected and supported by their colleagues."
Stokes said the kiss -- along with recent comments from Marine Commandant Gen. James Admos -- is further proof that repeal of the ''don't ask, don't tell" policy has not caused disruption in the ranks.
Amos had not supported changing the policy in the midst of two wars but recently said that there have been no problems caused by its repeal.
In San Diego, the premier Navy town on the West Coast, the televised image of the kiss was widely applauded.
"It was delightful," said Amber Cyphers-Stephens, director of communications for the San Diego Gay-Lesbian-Bisexual-Transgender Center.
-- Tony Perry in San Diego
Photo: Petty Officer 2nd Class Marissa Gaeta, left, kisses her girlfriend of two years, Petty Officer 3rd Class Citlalic Snell at Joint Expeditionary Base Little Creek in Virginia Beach, Va., on Wednesday, after Gaeta's ship returned from 80 days at sea. Credit: Brian J. Clark/The Virginian-Pilot/Associated Press