Yesterday in a final round of debate and questions, the House of Representatives of the State of Delaware passed Senate Bill 30 which provides for civil unions for same sex partners. So now Delaware joins the slowly growing list of states that provide equal opportunity for its citizens to live out life together.
CNN reports, "The new law will make Delaware the eighth state to offer civil unions or comprehensive domestic partnerships for same-sex couples, according to the Human Rights Campaign. The others are California, Nevada, New Jersey, Oregon and Washington. Couples in Illinois can begin applying for civil union licenses on June 1, according to the Human Rights Campaign, and Hawaii's law takes effect on January 1.
|Rally May 22, introducing the bill. (I'm in the back of group on platform, on left...while hair and beard (sigh).|
It was a wonderful, powerful and good day, and remarkably just three weeks and two days from its formal introduction on March 22, 2011.
I was proud to be present at the State Capital for the occasion and glad to be included among the supporters of the bill. What that meant in practice was mostly lobbying, sitting in the visitors gallery or outside the chamber, going to rallies, giving testimony on one occasion and listening to the testimony of others.
There were many people who spoke movingly of why this bill was important. I was particularly moved by the personal testimony of a lawyer friend of many years who spoke of her partner's current medical problems and the fear she had that she might lose the right to be counted as immediate family at critical times, and by the testimony of a young professional woman who has two mothers and wants her family to be understood as a real family. The Rector of St. Peter's, Lewes, Jeff Ross, spoke with great clarity of the pastoral concerns that would be eased by the existence of civil unions and the great importance of the bill as a matter of justice.
As always I was moved by the number of people who would come up and thank other clergy and me for being present for the process. I mostly saw our role as supportive of those for whom the church as so often been unsupportive. We were there to support the LGBT community and to witness to another way of being church than that provided by those church people who came and spoke against civil unions, against gay people and who believed that this civil union "thing" was going to destroy American values and society.
In getting the bill through the Delaware legislature there have been four occasions for witnesses to give testimony: in the Senate committee hearing, on the Senate floor, in the House committee hearing and in the House. As debate and discussion wove its way through each committee and house many of the points and counterpoints remained the same. Interestingly it was not until the last of these four that the opposition began to talk about "liberal clergy" who were supporting the bill. On the one hand it was an interesting feeling to be considered part of a class drawing the ire of the opposition. On the other hand, since I am not predictably a liberal, it was just one more round of foolishness by those who came to shoot down the bill.
So, after so much work, what has this accomplished? I think the bill provides equal opportunities for all committed couples to deal with the matters of "for better or worse."
A lawyer friend suggested that a license to enter a civil union or a marriage is, like the license to drive, an agreement to enter into a whole world of complex interactions in which new responsibilities, duties and rights are engaged. In that it is not like a contract which spells out the exchange of goods and services or precise rights and duties.
So now a whole new class of persons in Delaware are able to enter into the full range of mutual responsibilities - the whole matter of "for better or for worse, for richer for porrer, in sickness and in health, to love and to cherish." They too will hope it is "until parted by death," but will live with the civil reality that the license can be revoked with "relational consequences."
One friend suggested that the equality in all this must mean the equality of opportunity of experiencing the messy divorce as well as the faithful companionship, the sour days of barely speaking as well as the days of deep engagement, the question "is that all there is..?" as well as the delight in "all this and heaven too..." The equality in what is now possible is the equality in risk taking.
I wish us all well.
I still believe the Church ought to get out of the civil law game. If marriages and civil unions are civil law licenses, then let the state do the business of granting the license. I think the license ought to be called the same - either marrige or civil union- my vote is for "civil union." So, couples who want such a license would get it from the state that offers it - directly.
Then, if they so wished and if they belonged to a religious or other community that celebrates the religious or ethical possibilities of such unions, let them do so and call it marriage. Then the marriage celebration, the blessing, the affirmations, etc, belong to the couple in their religious or ethical community, not to the couple vis a vis the state.
We will see.
But for now, it was an honor and a grace filled moment to be present with so many friends yesterday for what is a BIG DEAL here in little ol' Delaware. The members of the legislature who stood with Equality Delaware in presenting this bill exercised great courage. And the members and leadership of Equality Delaware were outstanding!