Member of U.K. Elite Military Unit Weds Boyfriend

by Kilian Melloy

EDGE Staff Reporter

Monday March 29, 2010

While anti-gay brass in the United States' armed forces fret about where and how to bunk openly gay troops in the event that America's military drops its requirement that GLBT servicemembers hide their sexual orientation, other nations have ling since discarded such bans. Among the countries that allow service by openly gay soldiers is the U.K.; and in a ceremony that followed on the heels of a prominent, openly gay U.K. politician marrying his life partner in Parliament, a member of the Household Cavalry has wed his boyfriend.

The Household Cavalry is the U.K.'s most elite branch of service. Its members provide security for visiting heads of state, as well as for top-ranking national officials. 23-year-old Lance Corporal James Wharton made military history when he became the first member of the Household Cavalry to marry a same-sex life partner.

Wharton and 21-year-old Thom McCaffrey were married with members of Wharton's regiment in attendance to show their support, U.K. newspaper the Daily Post reported on March 29.

"When I went to ask the Squadron Leader, Major Nana Twumasi-Ankrah, for permission to get married, he just said: 'This is fantastic, congratulations,' " Wharton told the press, adding that the other men in his regiment were enthusiastically supportive. "The lads joked it was the gay event of the year," Wharton said. "Everyone was excited. It was the talk of the barracks."

The article noted that both Prince William and his younger brother, Prince Harry, are members of the Household Cavalry. Full marriage equality for gay and lesbian families is not available in the U.K., but its equivalent, civil partnership, offers the same rights, protections, and obligations.

In the United States, marriage rights are specifically denied to gay and lesbian families in all but six states. No federal recognition is extended even to married same-sex Americans, under the 1996 "Defense of Marriage" Act. Moreover, while many top brass say that the time has come to abolish the 17-year-old anti-gay troops policy, "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" (DADT), which allows GLTB soldiers to serve only so long as they do not disclose their sexual orientation, others--such as Marine Gen. James Conway and Army Lt. Gen. Benjamin Mixon--have spoken out against gay troops being allowed to come out of the closet, with Conway declaring, "I would not ask our Marines to live with someone who is homosexual if we can possibly avoid it."

Other top brass say it's time for the ban to go, including Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Adm. Mike Mullen, who said that servicemembers unhappy with the idea of serving alongside openly gay colleagues should "vote with your feet." Indeed, opponents to ending the ban say that servicemembers would leave in drives if gays in uniform were allowed to be honest about themselves.

The U.K.'s military discarded its anti-gay policy in 2000. Though a sizable percentage of U.K. servicemembers had said that they might leave the service if gays were allowed to serve openly, only a few did leave the service once the ban was dropped.

Wharton, who has been openly gay since he completed his training, was featured on the cover of Soldier magazine, a July 27, 2009, story in U.K. newspaper The Daily Telegraph reported. Wharton told the Telegraph that he did get teased a little by his comrades in arms, but that they have never had a problem with his being gay. Wharton served a tour in Iraq in 2007; he told the Telegraph, "I would say whoever goes on a tour to a place like Iraq can't really be described as a pansy--so the gay stereotype doesn't really apply."

The Daily Post said that Wharton and McCaffrey hosted a wedding reception at barracks of Wharton's regiment.

Kilian Melloy serves as EDGE Media Network's Associate Arts Editor and Staff Contributor. His professional memberships include the National Lesbian & Gay Journalists Association, the Boston Online Film Critics Association, The Gay and Lesbian Entertainment Critics Association, and the Boston Theater Critics Association's Elliot Norton Awards Committee.