BY STEVE ROTHAUS, srothaus@MiamiHerald.com
A kiss is just a kiss unless you're a couple of strapping hunks and one is a U.S. Marine coming home from war to his male partner.
Then a Facebook photo of the big smooch goes viral and becomes a news event covered around the world.
Marine Sgt. Brandon Morgan returned Feb. 22 from Afghanistan to Hawaii and jumped into partner Dalan Wells' arms. (Morgan is 5-feet 11-inches tall; Wells is 6-foot-6.)
A friend, David Lewis, photographed the family reunion.
"With all that was going on, we didn’t even know he was there taking pictures," Morgan says. "The world went away for a few minutes."
Morgan later posted the homecoming photos on his personal Facebook page and a friend then reposted the pictures on the Gay Marines page.
Within hours Sunday, the main photo had thousands of views and had been reposted on countless other pages. News stories ran worldwide. As of Tuesday, it had about 37,000 Facebook "likes" and nearly 9,000 comments.
"I can only imagine that it went viral because we were the first men to kiss," Morgan says. Shortly after the U.S. military ended it's gay ban late last year, two female Navy petty officers publicly kissed at a Virginia homecoming ceremony.
One of the couple's Facebook friends sent at critical message to Morgan's mother, driving her to tears.
"What did you do to mess up as a mother to make him do this?" read the comment.
Says Morgan, a Christian who grew up in Oakdale, Calif., near Modesto: "She loves me and my sister, who's a lesbian. She said, if you don't like my children and how I raised them, I don't care. My mother is awesome!"
Morgan, 25, and Wells, 38, have been dating about a month-and-a half and that they've known each other a few years.
"I honestly knew I was in love with him from the first moment I met him," Morgan says, adding that before he came out he had made "a lot of mistakes," including marrying a woman.
During Morgan's six months in Afghanistan, "there was nonstop letter writing every day."
Wells, an oil painter in Oahu, says that when Morgan first asked him out, he said no.
"I didn’t know how much he loved me and how much I was in love with him," Wells says.
The photographed kiss was their first, says Morgan, who re-enlisted in the Marines in October and plans to stay in the military about 3 1/2 more years.
The men say they plan to work with the gay military group Outserve.
Wells says he's not bothered by the sudden fame. "I’m a very shy person," Wells says. "If this helps one troubled teen and gives them hope for the future, if I can help, I will."