3/31/2011

The Democratic Process in the Small State of Delaware

Democracy works pretty well in small communities.  City Council in Lewes is a bit like Town Meetings in New England. People come and speak their mind and are listened to by neighbors, some of whom serve on council. The towns is small, three thousand or so, and the larger community (in the winter) about 5 or 6 thousand.  
Delaware Legislature

The same is true on a state level: The legislature in Dover is bicameral, the House has 41 members, the Senate 21 members (this for a state population of less than a million people.  Often when there is a bill of some importance the hearings of committees are held in the House or Senate chamber, and sometimes when the full house or senate is considering legislation people from "the street" can sign up or be called upon to speak to an issue. The distance between legislation making and the people of the land is not all that great.

I've given testimony on several occasions over the years. Three times in the long struggle to get a bill passed that offered equal employment and housing rights to LGBT citizens. I spoke once to a House committee, once to the full House, and once to a Senate committee, and yesterday again to a Senate committee on Civil unions.

Sometimes these occasions was followed by the bill never getting out of committee, or getting voted down by one or the other house. Sometimes the efforts pushed matters on to a positive vote. 

The thing is, we all understood that speaking our mind and listening to one another and dealing with the results was all part of the agreement - we would testify for what we wanted to see happen, give our best argument, and live with the results. There would be a next time, for the process always has a next time.

Delaware Senate Chamber
So yesterday we came into the Senate chamber and heard each other out. Some forty people testified, twenty for and twenty against the bill for civil unions.  The "pro" statements were mostly about civil rights and civil matters, the "anti" statements were mostly about the bill either being a cover for the next round - same sex marriage - or simply wrong in biblical terms.  Much of the talk on each side simply missed the other entirely. 

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 hearings closed without a vote, but the committee later voted to send the legislation on to the full Senate for consideration. So we have moved forward.  It's not over yet, but it's moving on. So hopefully Equality Delaware will invite friends to come again and speak to the full Senate. 



10 comments:

  1. Mark,

    Your support and eloquent testimony made me so proud to be an Episcopalian, and to have you as a friend.

    Toward Equality,

    Lisa Goodman, President
    Equality Delaware

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  2. One day, some day. this shall come to pass.

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  3. Glad you testified, Mark. It's a righteous cause!

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  4. Well done, Mark. I remember testifying on behalf of the house bill for equality the first time around. The arguments against don't change, do they. I remember the anonymous hate calls and mail after, which was creepy, so thank you, Mark, for keeping on keeping on. When the bill for equality was finally passed I rejoiced for Delaware (once a Delawarean, always a Delawarean!). I pray I will be able to do so again, for civil unions.

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  5. Reading reports of the recent testimony in various states--Colorado, maryland, Indiana, Washington -- it is striking how vicious the "antis" are becoming. In Colorado, where the civil unions bill just died in committee, the testimony is particularly grim. (See here.

    I am sure that as it becomes more inevitable, the desperation leads to these tactics, but I find it very, very depressing and almost too hard to bear.

    Why do they hate us so much?

    How can they claim to be "Christian" when they bubble over with such hatred?

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  6. Thank you, Mark, and Perren and everyone who testified. I'm so proud to call you my friend.

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  7. In the course of the civil union and then marriage debate in Vermont, I was always astonished that the anti-change group would turn the session into a rather strange bible-study that had nothing to do with civil law. Thank you for your solidarity.

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  8. What I can't work out is why you support the democratic process in Delaware but didn't like the democratic process of proposition 8 in California

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  9. leitourgia...what I like about the Delaware process is... the process. We get to go and be very close to the representatives, engage them, make our best case directly, sit next to those who oppose us as well as those who are with us, etc. There have been many occasions when that process went to the other side. I regret that but understand that and still feel good about the process.

    As to Proposition 8 in California. I wrote a post on the work of bishops in California against Proposition 8. I did not suggest (I dont believe) that the democratic process was lacking. Indeed the fact that people, pro and con, set out to influence their legislators was exactly part of that process.

    I am glad to be part of a small state where the process is more like a town meeting. California is a different thing all together. Even there the process works.

    Of course if I don't like the conclusion I believe we keep working at it to see that change comes at some point. But I don't dump on the process simply when the cause I hope for does not prosper.

    I support the democratic process where ever it is used. That is different from liking the results on this or that issue.

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