The Delaware Senate introduced civil unions legislation Tuesday that would extend all the state-level benefits of marriage to same-sex couples.
On Wednesday, a group of about 40 clergy - twenty opposed, twenty supportive - testified before the sub-committee.
Sub-committees are notorious for being the place where all controversial legislation is sent to die.
Dying, yet behold, it lived!
Delaware Senate Bill 30 (S.B.30) passed the sub-committee, despite testimony from some clergy who were, they said, "sent by God" to proclaim that Civil Unions in Delaware would be the downfall of Western Civilization, threaten the sacred institution of marriage, increase all of the evils of the world, and incur the wrath of God in such Biblical proportions so as to cause earthquakes, tidal waves, hurricanes, pestilence, wars and rumors of war, famine, global warming and further tear the hole in the ozone layer.
Yada, Yada, Yada.
I'm told that one scrubbied-up, very earnest young cleric testified that he was raised by two women who later split up as a couple and "returned to heterosexuality".
His point was not to to say that he didn't have "love in his heart" for homosexual persons - he assured everyone that he did. Rather, the point of his testimony was to debunk the theory that LGBT people are "born that way" and can, through the power of prayer and faith in God, country, apple pie and Chevrolet, "convert" and become "normal".
Mark Harris, gave moving testimony in support of Civil Unions and Marriage Equality. The resolutions of support of Marriage Equality passed by the Diocese of Delaware were also presented before the committee.
Mark Harris wrote:
I was frankly ashamed of the statements and behavior of some of those who spoke against the bill. I was ashamed because, as a convinced and convicted Christian I found their statements wildly condemning, biblically illiterate, and lacking in any pentecostal vision. The spirit present in their remarks was the sad spirit of a God who condemns. Sad to say too, their remarks were mostly outside the competency of a civil legislature. Here was an opportunity to address inequities in the law and practice of community life in Delaware and the opposition could only offer the bread of conspiracy and the dry loaf of condemnation. Not much to feed on.The legislation, which currently has 27 co-sponsors, would allow for the recognition of civil unions performed in other states, but would recognize out-of-state same-sex marriages as civil unions as well, not as marriages.
Equality Delaware assisted in drafting the legislation, which reflects recent polls showing that residents of the state prefer civil unions to same-sex marriage.
The bill is expected to pass the House and the Senate. Governor Jack Markell has said that he will sign the bill into law. Here's his speech on Tuesday.
In the words of the Governor, "Hatred has no place here."
I have to tell you that, while this isn't full Marriage Equality, this is huge.
In an odd sort of way, perhaps Delaware was able to make this important first step on the road to full Marriage Equality precisely because of Ms. O'Donnell's candidacy.
I call it the "Anita Bryant Effect". I suspect her nomination served as a real wake up call about politically-packaged prejudice and bigotry and hatred.
I have to tell you that I personally believe that the "elephant" in the sub-committee room was that, when Delawareians introduce themselves to someone not from Delaware and get that wide-grin-smirk, "Oh, yeah, Delaware. Christine O'Donnell" I sometimes do, they want nothing more than to be able to respond, "Yes, but we have Civil Unions."
I note with chagrin, however, that in Sussex County, where I live, Ms. O'Donnell carried the vote. Some of the people in my neighborhood still wear their Christine O'Donnell T-shirts and have not removed their supportive bumper stickers.
Not all. Not many. Some. Enough to make my skin crawl.
For the most part, my experience of life in "Lower, Slower Delaware" is mostly, "live and let live." That sometimes gets translated from the religious language of "hate the sin, love the sinner" which is far from optimal but I'll take that any day over the Westboro Baptist wack-a-doodle religious mantras of "God Hates Fags" and "Thank God for AIDS".
I'll also take that over the wide, all-teeth grin "there, there, all in good time," patronizing expressions of those who tell me they are my "friend" - even have me over to dinner - but ask me to be "reasonable" and "patient" while they either do nothing or laugh hardy when a 'fag' or 'dyke' joke is told, or cast their vote to reject the equality of all of God's people and all of the earth's citizens.
As Governor Markell said, "The time is here. The time is now."
Spiritual Leaders Statement". It is garnering the signatures of an amazing amount of Delaware Clergy. I note that there are now 29 signers each in both the Episcopal and Presbyterian columns. Third in line are the Methodists.
There are 109 signatories, all totaled. Delaware is a small state for the First State, but apparently, we have no shortage of clergy. Here's the statement:
"Love for and respect of one's fellow human beings are perhaps the most prominent and universal core values of the many spiritual and religious traditions that have ever existed. While sometimes differing markedly in many other ways, spiritual and religious persons and groups can at least agree with this tenet: "We have a deep and abiding obligation to love and respect others." Indeed, not treating others respectfully or as we would want to be treated is seen by the various faith traditions as moral failure.Now really, who couldn't sign onto that statement?
As leaders representing a wide variety of spiritual expression in the State of Delaware, we strongly support the full civil rights, including civil marriage, of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender persons, and see such support as being very consistent with our shared belief."
Wait, wait. Don't tell me. I already know.
It all seems so simple. We know, for some people, it's not.
Which is why this is about Civil Unions and not Marriage Equality.
Keven Cathcart of the Human Rights Campaign told me that he thought, once this issue began to get traction and become reality in the states - state by state - the issue of marriage equality would be settled - ultimately, finally - by the IRS which would demand uniformity.
That was about 15 years ago - before we had Domestic Partnerships or Civil Unions, much less dared to dream about Marriage Equality.
I didn't believe him then.
I believe him now.
Delaware is known as "The First State". It's far from the first state to sign onto Civil Unions or to struggle with the idea of Marriage Equality.
It won't be the last.
The time is here. The time is now.
Thanks be to God.