The week that marriage equality became the law of the land in North Carolina, qnotes staff came across a heartwarming moment shared by two North Carolina servicemembers. The American Military Partner Association and Equality North Carolina had shared a photo of U.S. Army Spc. Elvis Wentzel, 22, welcoming his husband Sgt. Joseph Wentzel, 25, back home after a nearly year-long deployment in Afghanistan. It’s a special moment for any couple, but this homecoming especially so because it happened on Oct. 13, the first full day same-gender marriages were legally recognized in their home state.
Given the unique history of the day and knowing Veteran’s Day was upcoming, qnotes reached out to speak to Elvis and Joseph. Just a few days later, we were on the phone with Elvis. Joseph was still taking care of finalizing his return home.
Here now, this special marriage equality and Veteran’s Day edition of “Our People” and our chat with Elvis. The interview has been edited for clarity and brevity.
Matt Comer: Where are you from and how long have you and Joseph been in the U.S. Army?
Elvis Wentzel: I’m originally from Jacksonville, N.C., and I’ve been in the Army for two-and-a-half years. Joseph is from Illinois and has just started his fourth year in the Army.
Are you legally married and how did you meet?
Yes, we are legally married. We met in April 2013. We were friends for the first week and started dating for about three months. He proposed to me on July 3. On Sept. 28, 2013, we drove up to Washington, D.C., to get married.
Did it feel special knowing you welcomed Joseph back home, coincidentally, on the first full day your marriage was recognized at home?
It was, because we weren’t even officially together a full year before he deployed. He deployed four months after we got married. Since the federal government recognized our marriage, though, a month after we got married we were able to start our lives in an actual apartment instead of both of us staying in the barracks. We had gotten two dogs and we had our own little family going on for about three months before he deployed.
What was it like having him gone for so long?
He was gone for about 265 days. He missed Valentine’s Day. He missed the one year stepping stone of us being together. He missed his birthday. He missed our one-year wedding anniversary. He missed a lot of great events in our lives which would have been firsts for us. We were only able to talk on Skype and see each other face to face twice in the period.
Now that your marriage is recognized by the state of North Carolina, will that change anything for you?
No, not really. We already had so many benefits because the federal government and military recognized our marriages. But knowing this is my hometown and this is where I come from, I have a lot of friends here who can get married now without having to go out of their way. Knowing that you don’t have to go out of your way or travel to make something special happen in your life is soothing.
How have your colleagues reacted to you and Joseph? Have y’all had any problems in the military?
When I was in basic training, I was very hesitant. I was going away from home for the very first time. My buddies were accommodating to me and made me feel better. A lot of them knew before I told them and they were all very welcoming. I didn’t have a problem in basic training at all and a lot of my comrades, we’re all very friendly. I’m still friends with a lot of them and they know my husband. Everyone in my higher command, they are very, very accepting. Joseph wasn’t out in his company, but when we got married, he slowly came out. Some people said they kind of knew already, but when they found out everybody was accepting. The military has been very accepting and the changes that they’ve made have been amazing. : :