So on other fronts, while Archbishop - elect Duncan was becoming ACNA Archbishop Duncan, some of us in his former state and diocese of residence were working away at the State House in Dover to get legislation passed to provide legal protection against discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation. It took 13 - that's 13 - years to get sexual orientation added to the list of classes of people who are protected from discrimination.
Drew Fennell, a wonderful and good friend, worked with Senator David Sokola to manage the floor debate. Representatives William Oberle, Jr. and Pete Schwartzkopf did the heavy lifting in the House.
I became part of the doings on this bill when it was House Bill 99, about 10 years ago. I testified then on the House floor. Yesterday, I was back and this time was called on to speak to the Senate where the debate went on for some time. Senate Bill 121 passed there and was sent immediately over to the House where it passed as well. It now goes to the Governor for signing.
It was a great day for GLBT folk, friends, and indeed for all regular paid up citizens in Delaware where at long last the reality of discrimination and its remedies are recognized. But the struggle continues. I was appalled to see the level of homophobia, prejudice and down right meanness there was in the proceedings.
An attorney for those opposed to this bill used an outrageous illustration of the way this bill might be used in support of gay marriage. He said, if you take a can of white paint and one of red paint and you mix them you get pink, and similarly if you take already clear law and add this new bill, you get a mixed future where the color will be changed. I don't know if this attorney had any idea what he was saying, but for me there were suddenly the images of the pink triangle used to mark / brand homosexuals in Nazi Germany. And, in Delaware, not noted for its racial inclusively, mention of color is always up for under the radar secondary meaning concerning race. Without saying a word on the surface the speaker was able to help the hearer make the leap from legal opportunism and possible confusions to the "pink" of homosexual branding to the dangers of mixed race / color.
Thus, later in arguments about how this bill would make it necessary to teach the acceptability of homosexual lifestyles, there was no need to mention just how all of this added to "impurity" of the race and the lifting up of defectives, etc. It was awful. So the Bill passed and for that I am grateful. But the struggle is far from over. The clever subtexts of the opponents to this bill make it clear.
Here is what the Wilmington News Journal reported this morning (Thursday June 25) :
Legislators vote to halt discrimination based on sexual orientation
By MIKE CHALMERS The News Journal (Wilmington Delaware)
DOVER - Gays and lesbians in Delaware will have legal protection from discrimination under a bill that passed the General Assembly late Wednesday night, more than a decade after supporters started fighting for it.
The House chamber erupted in applause, cheers and hugs when representatives passed the measure shortly after 8:30 p.m. An hour earlier the Senate - where previous versions of the legislation always were killed - passed the same bill after a three-hour debate.
The bill now goes to Gov. Jack Markell for his signature. Rep. Pete Schwartzkopf, Who helped push the bill through the House, said Markell has expressed support for it.
"We made a big step for¬ward tonight,” said Drewry Fennell, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union in Delaware, which supported the bill. "It protects the most basic activities of human life - moving about the world, earning a living, keeping a roof over your head," Fennell said. "Now the state has said you can't be discriminated against because of sexual orientation."
The measure, Senate Bill 121, adds sexual orientation to the list of protections under Delaware's anti-discrimination law. That law covers housing, employment, public works contracting, public accommodations and insurance.
Opponents of the bill argued it pushes their religious convictions aside in favor of "sexual liberties."
Five similar bills have passed in the House in the past decade but then stalled in Senate Committees. Intense, behind-the-scenes lob¬bying by supporters brought the proposal to full votes in both houses Wednesday evening.
"We knew if we could get it to the floor for to honest debate, it would pass," said Schwartzkopf, D-Rehoboth, and House majority leader Rep. William Oberle Jr., R - Beecher's Lot, has been pushing the proposal for more than a decade.
"It's obviously a great feeling," Oberle said. "When you're doing the right thing, it makes it a lot easier to deal with [frustrations and pressure]. We did the right thing tonight."
The measure that passed Wednesday night is nearly identical to one that passed the House in March. That House bill died in the Senate Executive Committee, where the late Sen. Thurman Adams would not let it be brought to the full Senate.
Instead, Sen. David Sokola, D-Newark introduced his own bill, which was assigned to the Senate Insurance Committee. That five-member body voted unanimously last week to send the bill to the full Senate, setting up Wednesday night’s events.
The Senate began the debate shortly after 4 p.m. More than 70 people packed the chamber's balcony gallery and dozens more sat in chairs circling the Senate floor.
Sens. Robert Venables, D- Laurel, and George Bunting, D -Bethany Beach, began by asking Sokola to postpone the vote until January because of the budget crisis, Adams' death and the absence of Sen. Bruce Ennis, D-Smyrna, from the floor.
Sokola responded that legislators had plenty of time to learn about the bill and line up witnesses.
The debate centered on three amendments, co-sponsored by Adams, that Venables introduced last week. Venables and his supporters said the amendments would have:
• Clarified that the bill could not be used to force recognition of same-sex marriages.
• Prevented schools from teaching acceptance of homosexuality.
• Allowed individuals and businesses who object to homosexuality because of "sincerely held religious or conscientious beliefs" not to be forced to participate in objectionable practices.
As each amendment came to the floor, its supporters and opponents brought witnesses to comment on them. For each lawyer or clergyman' that supporters sent to the podium, opponents had their own lawyers and clergymen.
Speaking in favor of all three 'amendments was Tim Tracey, an attorney for the Alliance Defense Fund, a conservative advocacy group whose mission is "to aggressively defend religious liberty."
He said activists in other states have used similar laws to push for same-sex marriage and the teaching of homosexuality in schools. He listed several court cases in which, he said, "religious freedom lost, even though it's enshrined in the First Amendment."
Venables several times said he did not think discrimination based on sexual orientation even existed. He doubted that homosexuals should be given legal protection for what he said was a lifestyle choice.
''I'm convinced that lesbians can be made," Venables said. "I don't want it taught in our schools that this is a normal lifestyle,"
Opponents countered that discrimination does exist and should be prevented
The Rev. Mark Harris, associate priest at St. Peter's Episco¬pal Church in Lewes, said allowing individuals or businesses to essentially ignore the law because of their beliefs would "eviscerate" the bill.
"Our individual religious proclivities are ours," Harris said. "But if I run a publicly accessible place of business, I can't do that [ignore the law]."
All three amendments were defeated by a 12-6 vote. The debate on the full bill lasted only about a half-hour and was approved, 14-5.
After the Senate approved the bill, it moved to the House, which stayed in session well past its normal quitting time so it could vote on the measure.
Opponents introduced four amendments in the House - three that were identical to those defeated in the Senate and one that was a scaled-back version of Venables' marriage-defense amendment.
All four were defeated.
Pretty good day's (and decade's) work.