4/15/2011

Delaware joins those States providing equal opportunity for better or worse.

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!

7 comments:

  1. Congratulations, Delaware! Brilliant! I'm proud to have come from there. Thank you, Mark.

    ReplyDelete
  2. I think this is great, and full congratulations to all for this important step. It took a lot of work and celebration is certainly warranted.

    But please, this statement is wrong:

    Delaware joins the slowly growing list of states that provide equal opportunity for its citizens to live out life together.

    Civil unions are NOT equal. Yes, they can provide access to many of the benefits of marriage. But they are not equal to marriage. As the studies in New Jersey showed, people with civil unions are still disadvantaged relative to married people. Many employers will treat them differently. Insurance, pensions, taxes, etc, will all be different. They are not recognized in most states, nor overseas. And even in their own states, they are often ignored.

    Let's just compare how you get them, based on California:
    Marriage: get license in person, good for 90 days, must have recognized and registered representative of the state sign it, file with the county, receive license in the mail.

    RDP: Download file from website, notarize at Kinko's, mail in to "registry". Dissolve it the same way.

    California abounds with examples of people who are denied care, rights, and recognition, despite having an RDP. Attorneys routinely tell people not to count on an RDP to cover anything-- you still need all the legal paperwork possible.

    Look, this is a fine, and important, first step. Any recognition is better than none. Any protection is better than none. But it is a FIRST step.

    Civil unions are separate. They are emphatically not equal.

    ReplyDelete
  3. IT... you are right, mostly. It is not marriage. And, I am suggesting that civil marriage is not marriage either, at least not Holy Matrimony... that thing we do as church. The "civil" thing is about law, and if by law married people and civil union people are to be treated the same, then we will have to hold people to it.

    At least in Delaware the contents of the bill is, to the full extent possible (barring some Federal stuff due to DOMA) the exact parallel to the marriage laws. So here license comes from the same place and people, is granted and presided over by the same people (judges, clergy, etc) and the papers will be handled in the same way. (At least that is what I understand.)

    The hope here is that civil unions and marriages will be as much alike as possible. If they are not you can be sure that will become an argument for change. The California system is not what is envisioned here.

    Having said all this, let me also say that I am not a potential "user" of this system, and I mostly dislike two track systems because they are not finally able to be equal. So I am supportive of this because my friends say it is useful and necessary.

    If the rights and duties, etc, that the bill brings are not enforced there will be a real fight. But we will see.

    How we might go about leveling the field further is another matter.

    ReplyDelete
  4. You serve and support us so well, thank you, mil gracias, for your never-ending kindness in all that you do for LGBTI people both home and abroad.

    Leonardo Ricardo

    ReplyDelete
  5. Mark, as I said, the intent is great, the outcome is great in providing the first step.

    But it doesn't matter if you say they are the same. According to the CA Supreme Court, the RDP is the same as marriage, save only the name and how you get it.

    But they aren't . They can't. They aren't viewed as marriage, and they aren't treated as marriage no matter what the law says. The community has a host of stories of people who were told "we don't do that" at rural hospitals or the like.

    Ask anyone on the street what a civil union is and you'll be told that it's a separate track for LGBT people. Ask them if it's the same as marriage and you'll be told emphatically that it's NOT marriage. Marriage is freighted with cultural value that CU/DP just can't have and never will.

    That's why NJ's court found that civill unions, despite the best of intentions, ARE NOT EQUAL. And why Vermont went from CU to marriage.

    I didn't ask my wife to DP me. I asked her to marry me. While our marriage may not be recognized federally--yet-- everyone knows what it means when I say we're married.

    Here's another test. Ask a straight couple if they grow up dreaming of "unioning" their lover. Imagine telling your son or daughter that he/she can't get married, but he can get "unioned" and that's just as good, right? Because you always wanted to dance at their union ceremony.

    HEre's another test. When DOMA falls, what happens to folks with civil unions? Answer: NOTHING. They won't mean anything federally-- unless special legislation is enacted to recognize them. And I don't see how they can, since they vary state to state. Marriage is marriage. Civil unions are something else.

    My relationship is not second class. My citizenship is not second class. The state's recognition of my relationship should not make it so. For many of these reasons, then, we refused to get a DP. We married in the window in 2008 before Prop8. Best thing I ever did.

    Civil unions: a start. A good one. But not an end.

    ReplyDelete
  6. Thank you, Mark. And, thank you IT for explaining with such clarity why this is only a first step. An important step, but a first step.

    ReplyDelete

OK... Comments, gripes, etc welcomed, but with comment moderation but with some cautions and one rule:
Cautions: Calling people fools, idiots, etc, will be reason to bounce your comment. Keeping in mind that in the struggles it is difficult enough to try to respect opponents, we should at least try.
Rule: PLEASE DO NOT SIGN OFF AS ANONYMOUS: BEGIN OR END THE MESSAGE WITH A NAME - ANY NAME. ANONYMOUS commentary will be cut.