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Air Force Airman And Partner Unite In Civil Union Ceremony At N.J. Military Base

Fort Dix Army Base (credit: CBS 2)

Fort Dix Army Base (credit: CBS 2)

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WRIGHTSTOWN, N.J. (CBSNewYork/AP) - An Air Force airman and his partner have been united in a civil union ceremony held at the military base where the airman is stationed.

Dozens of friends and family members attended Saturday afternoon’s ceremony for Tech. Sgt. Erwynn Umali and Will Behrens. It was presided over by Kay Reeb, a Navy chaplain with the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, who also serves at Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst.

“We are so honored to be a part of this historic moment, to be one of the first gay couples allowed to unite in a civil union on a military base,” the couple said in a statement after the ceremony.

“We hope to be an inspiration to others in the LGBT community that struggle with the challenge of marriage equality. And that this issue is not just about the military, but the equal sacrifice and shared burdens of our loved ones who are civilians.”

Reeb, who had never presided over a civil union ceremony before, said she was delighted to take part.

“I told them the same thing I tell every couple: love each other and trust in each other and in God; that’s what keeps us together,” he said.

Among those attending the event held at the base’s chapel was former Marine Staff Sgt. Eric Alva, the first U.S. service member seriously injured in the Iraq War. He later revealed that he was gay and became a prominent advocate for ending the military’s ban on openly gay service members.

“It’s a blessing for me to be here today,” said Alva, who now travels around the country promoting equal rights issues. “A historic event like this shows that progress is being made.”

Air Force Capt. Ryan Quinn, who also attended the event, said he was “amazed by the beauty” of the ceremony.

“I really do think this is an important event,” he said. “And I was happy to be here with them and their families. The amount of support I’ve seen for them from the people [at the base] and the military community makes me proud to serve in the Air Force.”

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(TM and Copyright 2012 CBS Radio Inc. and its relevant subsidiaries. CBS RADIO and EYE Logo TM and Copyright 2012 CBS Broadcasting Inc. Used under license. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. The Associated Press contributed to this report.)