Looking back on historic March Chapel wedding with “Pride”

  • Published
  • By Senior Airman Micah M. Coate
  • 452 AMW Public Affairs

Marvin Tucker, Emergency Manager, 452nd Air Mobility Wing, said he was initially uneasy seven years ago when then Maj. Tina Tsui, 452nd Force Support Squadron commander and a friend of his for about six years, suggested that he get married on base. The law had changed, but could he trust it?


“We had a couple of conversations about it and I suggested he ask to use the base chapel for the ceremony,” said Tsui (now Lt. Col. Tina Warren, deputy chief, Reserve Systems Operating Location, Joint Base San Antonio-Randolph, Texas.) “Just ask. All they can do is say no.”


But having been in a serious relationship for 19 years without being able to share it with others until now was unfamiliar terrain for Tucker, who retired from the Air Force Reserve before Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell was repealed in 2011. Even then, he and his partner, Joshua Delgado, were not allowed to be legally wed.


“It wasn’t the repeal of Don’t Ask Don’t Tell that we were waiting for,” Tucker said. “The important part was the overturning of the Defense of Marriage Act. When that was repealed it meant that I was able to add Josh to my health and life insurance.”


In 2013, the Supreme Court struck down the 1996 Defense of Marriage Act, and deemed that California’s Proposition 8 was unconstitutional, which entitled legally married, same-sex couples the same federal benefits as married, opposite sex couples.   


When they first got engaged, Tucker and Delgado planned to wed quietly with a simple courthouse wedding. However, many of their family members expressed wanting to be part of such a momentous occasion, so the couple started looking for a bigger venue. It was then that Warren suggested the base chapel, Tucker said.


Despite their legal right to be married, Tucker and Delgado were hesitant. They would be setting a precedence as the first same-sex couple to be married on the historic base, and only the second in the Air Force to be married on a military installation. They were worried about those who might be against the new civil right.


“There were rumors that people were unhappy,” said Tucker. “The concern was that somebody would try to bust in the chapel and stop it.”


However, when Tucker spoke with, then base commander, Col. Samuel “Bo” Mahaney, to ask for permission to use the chapel, Mahaney (now Maj. Gen.) was more than supportive. 


“Marv had done so much for his nation, and for Team March, that I wanted to do right by him and Joshua,” said Mahaney. “I double-checked the new laws and regulations, because this was unchartered territory. In doing so, it became clear to me that they had just as much right, under the law, to use the historic setting of March Air Reserve Base for their wedding as any other couple,” Mahaney said. “So, I gave them permission to use the chapel for the ceremony.”

Mahaney also ensured that no one would disrupt the wedding by instructing base security forces to be on the lookout for any uninvited guests, Tucker said.


Having become good friends with Tucker because of going through several major inspections as well as Super Storm Sandy support, Mahaney and his wife, Chris, attended the wedding.


“We thoroughly enjoyed both the ceremony and the reception,” Mahaney said. “I was very proud of the March community. We kept our eye out for any trouble, but there was none,” he said. “The wedding proceeded uninterrupted with many Airmen in attendance and showing their support.”


Of course, being a gay man in the military, Tucker did not always have the same support that he had on his wedding day. As a new security forces Airman in 1982, it was against the rules to serve in the military as a homosexual.


“You weren’t out, by no means,” Tucker said. “If you did go to a bar or a club you would park blocks away and walk to it because OSI (the Air Force Office of Special Investigations) would go to the parking lots and look for military stickers on peoples’ cars. I knew people who got kicked out (of the military) just because their cars were parked in the lot of a club.”


Tucker also recalls using code words and aliases in everyday conversations to communicate with other gay military personnel and their allies. When, when he and Delgado began living together after they met at an AIDS Foundation charity event in the early nineties, Tucker had to come up with ways to hide their relationship from his workplace.


“I got asked all the time who he was,” Tucker said. “I’d say Josh was my nephew, my cousin, or my roommate. It wasn’t like Josh could call my cell phone to reach me back then. He had to call the office and other people would pick up the phone, or we’d run into someone from work at a local restaurant.” 


Even at the height of the AIDS epidemic, Tucker said that speaking openly about homosexuality was taboo.


“I can remember people I worked with who contracted HIV. There was a whole floor at Wilford Hall (base hospital at then Lackland Air Force Base, Texas) where HIV patients were kept, separated from others. You couldn’t write (to) them; you couldn’t talk to them.”


With so many laws and stereotypes working against the LGBTQ community, it seemed hopeless that the couple would ever be able to live like traditional couples.


“With all the odds against us back then we never thought, in our lifetime, that it would be possible for us to be married legally,” Delgado said. “We were happy for this new chapter, to get married, to buy a house, and to be able to finally make a home together, openly and without barriers.”


Others in the community were excited about the wedding as well. 


Congressman Mark Takano, California’s 41st district, and the first openly gay person of color to be elected to Congress, offered to officiate the wedding. Although scheduling conflicts prohibited him from doing so, he still wanted the union to be officially entered into the congressional record, so Takano read Tucker and Delgado’s story on the floor of the House of Representatives. 


“I still had my officiant license from a couple of years prior when I was asked to participate in a wedding, so I told Marv that if he couldn’t find anyone to officiate, and if he wanted me to, I would be honored to I do it,” Warren said.


The day of the ceremony revealed a general feeling of support and happiness for the couple, Warren said.


“It’s not that they were starting a life together,” Warren said. “They had already had a life together. So, to be able to celebrate that with a ceremony and all the friends and family there to support them was beautiful.”


During the wedding, the base chapel was filled with, not only personal friends and family, but many other Team March members.  


“A couple of the commanders and the command chief were there,” Tucker said. “Tina married us. Somebody from the services flight was our DJ, and someone from public affairs was our photographer. It really was a family affair.”


After the official ceremony, the wedding party and guests moved to the historic Hap Arnold Club on base for the reception. Some of the security forces who had been guarding the chapel against wedding crashers, ended their shift and joined the festivities. 


Tables were set up by club staff before Tucker’s nieces adorned the reception room with flowers, candles and other decorations. When the cake decorator discovered that she was making the cake for the first, same-sex couple to be married on the base, she decided to go big. She created an elegant, two-tiered cake that was black and white on the outside, but the first slice made by the couple revealed one tier was a six-layer cake, with each layer a vibrant color of the rainbow. 


“Everything was done on base. Our families were able to attend, but it was our March family who helped us have the wedding,” Tucker said.


Today, years later, Tucker said he is happy that younger Airmen do not have to hide who they are like he did.


“We’ve come so far,” said Tucker. “Sometimes it takes me back, when I hear a younger troop talk openly about it. I gasp because I forget things are different (now) and I would have never been able to say that in my time. Then I sit back and remember, and I am so grateful that they are able to.”


For younger troops and others in the LGBTQ community, Tucker advises they come out of hiding and be true to themselves.


“We (Tucker and Delgado) live in suburbia, Moreno Valley, and have had very conservative neighbors, who eventually ended up spending every holiday with us,” Tucker said. “You can live our life, and buy a condo in Palm Springs, and have gay family all around you but you’re just preaching to the choir. You are not going to change anyone’s mind. You have to get out, be yourself, and help people think differently. That’s how you’re going to make change.” 


Editor’s Note: According to the Library of Congress website, June is Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender and Queer (LGBTQ) Pride Month. The purpose of the commemorative month is to recognize the impact that lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender individuals have had on history locally, nationally, and internationally. This month marks the 50th anniversary of annual LGBTQ+ Pride traditions. https://www.loc.gov/lgbt-pride-month/about/





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