Captain Phelps took the the time to answer a few questions about his relationship and the special moment he and Schock shared at the place where it all began.
BuzzFeed: How long have you two been together?
Matthew Phelps: We actually met a few years ago at the 2010 Servicemembers Legal Defense Network [SLDN] annual dinner. We were introduced by one of Ben’s friends and had an instant connection. He was living in Seattle at the time, and I in San Diego, so we just became friends and talked over the phone every once in a while. After graduating from the University of Washington, Ben moved to D.C., and when I came back to Washington, D.C., for the 2012 SLDN dinner in March, we saw each other for the first time since we’d met. As my involvement with OutServe and SLDN grew, so did opportunities to come back to the East Coast, and when I received an invitation to the LGBT Pride Month Reception at the White House on June 15, I invited Ben to be my date. That was our first official date, and things obviously progressed from there!
BF: When did you first realize you wanted to marry Ben?
MP: After our first date at the White House, Ben flew out to San Diego to visit and attend my change of command at the Marine Corps Recruit Depot. I knew I had had completely fallen for him the night he arrived and we went for a walk along San Diego Bay. By the time I was transferred to Quantico and moved to Washington, D.C., I was excited to see where the relationship would go. What had already been wonderful became indescribably great, and in October I told his parents it was my intention to one day marry their son.
BF: Why did you want to propose at the White House?
MP: I wanted to propose at the White House because that was where we went on our first date, and because the tour we were invited on by the Military Partners and Families Coalition just happened to fall on the six-month anniversary of that day, Dec. 15. I thought it would make it memorable and special to propose in the same place as our first date — people do that all the time, right?
BF: How did the proposal come together?
MP: When we received the invitation from MPFC and it fell on Dec. 15, I thought it would be perfect. I started conspiring with MPFC and some of Ben’s friends to work out all the logistics and make it a surprise for Ben. The thing I was most concerned about was emptying my pockets for the metal detectors, so I passed the ring to a friend, who brought it in. Then I was just trying not to betray my nervousness while we looked at all the beautiful decorations. By the time we made it to the cross hall upstairs, our friends had gotten ahead of us and cleared a spot for us near the tree. We walked in like we were just going to take a picture in front of the tree and he still had no idea until I got down on one knee. I wish the photos would have captured his face, but he’s probably glad they didn’t.
BF: Did you have any idea that people were taking the photos and/or sharing them on Facebook?
MP: I honestly had no idea. I knew some people had taken some photos with their phones, because I wanted to make sure we got a photo. It wasn’t until the next day that someone forwarded me photos that someone had taken because he’d happened to walk in as I was proposing and thought it might have been the first same-sex marriage proposal at the White House. It may be the first between two men, although there was a transgender man who proposed to his partner at the June 15 reception, so I think they were probably the first LGBT marriage proposal.
BF: Do you have any idea of when or where you two want to get married?
MP: Now that Ben is in on the secret, we are starting to discuss possibilities, but probably this spring, since I am scheduled to be transferred after I finish the school year at Marine Corps University. We are thinking we will do it in either in Washington, D.C., or Washington state (where Ben is from and where marriage equality was approved). I’m expecting order to Japan next, so it’s important to us that we get married while we are still in the states so our friends and families can attend. Unfortunately, the future is a bit up in the air because of the Defense of Marriage Act [DOMA]. Currently, DOMA prevents our marriage from being recognized by the Department of Defense at all, so he won’t have access to the same rights as opposite-sex married couples, like health care coverage, base housing, PX privileges, or even unaccompanied access to base. In fact, DOMA prevents Ben from officially accompanying me, so we are going to have quite a challenge figuring out how my husband will accompany me when I am transferred.
Again, congrats to Matthew and Ben! We wish them the best of luck in this new stage of their relationship. (The Supreme Court has set the schedule for the Defense of Marriage Act case, testing whether the couple will be able to get federal benefits after they wed, and action will start mid-January. More pictures of the couple’s beautiful moment here.)