Image of sailor kissing same-sex partner after deployment sparks backlash, support

/ CBS News

An image of a sailor kissing his same-sex partner after returning to Florida from a months-long Navy deployment has sparked both hate and support online.

Television station WJXT reports Bryan Woodington was one of about 300 sailors deployed to the Persian Gulf and Europe in May aboard the USS The Sullivans. The sailors returned home to the Jacksonville area Dec. 21, in time to spend the holidays with their families.

The station reports Woodington and his husband of one year, Kenneth Woodington, won a charity lottery to be the first couple re-united for the ceremonial first kiss. The couple kissed for the first time in seven months as cameras rolled and the crowd cheered.

Sailor Bryan Woodington kisses his husband Kenneth Woodington Dec. 21 following a seven-month deployment in an image that has sparked both backlash and support online Naval Station Mayport

"I miss him very much, and it was our first deployment," Kenneth Woodington told the station. "I've never been away from him that long. It just means so much to have him back."

But both the television station and the Naval Station Mayport, which posted an image of the couple kissing on their Facebook page, received backlash. The station reports it received phone calls and emails blasting its decision to publish the images of the kiss. "How sad that your station has dropped to such a low as to show a gay couple kissing on your newscast," one commenter reportedly wrote.

But the couple also received an outpouring of support online.

"Times have changed when a gay sailor can welcome home his partner without fear," one commenter wrote on the Naval Station Mayport Facebook page. "Welcome home. Life is short, love whoever you want to love."

The couple told the station they've received more support than backlash and said the negative comments didn't bother them.

"My grandmother always taught me, she said, 'You know. some people have a different life and this is how they are, and you just have to treat them as such, and treat them with kindness and respect,'" Bryan Woodington told the station.

Bill Austin, a spokesman for Naval Station Mayport, told the station a same-sex first kiss has happened before, and the couple says the Navy has been supportive.

First published on January 1, 2019

© 2019 CBS Interactive Inc. All Rights Reserved.

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