Last night, I had the honor and privilege of attending the signing ceremony for the Delaware civil unions bill. In front of a capacity crowd at the recently renovated Queen Theater in downtown Wilmington, Governor Jack Markell signed the bill into law.
But rather than tell you about the enthusiastic crowd, the beautiful venue, or the well-put-together event, I think it's important to talk about the unbelievable path to success this bill took. This amazing success comes on the heels of a relatively hard-fought battle to pass a statewide non-discrimination policy that covers sexual orientation. That bill finally became law in 2009 - 13 years after it was first introduced.
The groundwork for the civil union bill was laid by the newly formed Equality Delaware with much help from the folks at the Barbara Gittings Delaware Stonewall Democrats. (Full disclosure: I work for National Stonewall Democrats.)
The bill was introduced by Rep. Melanie George, who was rightfully hailed as a champion at several points during the event. George used her grace and skill to not only shepherd this bill to swift passage, but she also fought back nine hostile amendments that were designed to derail the bill. In the end, the bill passed both houses of the legislature by a 2-1 margin.
(More of the story and video of the governor's speech after the jump.)
Peter Schott, Vice President for Political Activity for the Barbara Gittings Delaware Stonewall Democrats, was effusive about the swift passage and able leadership of many of the legislators. He told me the whole process was 22 days from start to finish and that this was considered swift action for any bill in the Delaware legislature, let alone a gay rights bill.
Lisa Goodman, president of Equality Delaware said, "Tonight is a wonderful night for LGBT equality in Delaware. We are so grateful for the support of the governor, the General Assembly, and Delawareans up and down the state." She also told a story about how supportive the Governor was right from the start.
According to Goodman, when she and EQDE approached him about the bill, he responded, "I said during the campaign I supported civil unions. That is still my position. Let's talk strategy." If only more of our governors across the country were this supportive.
This was a great win for Delaware and for the LGBT community. Delaware can add itself to the growing list of states (plus DC) that recognize same-sex relationships. Progress marches on and I'm so proud to have been a witness to another piece of our history.
Transcript of Governor Markell's Speech
Delaware Civil Unions Legislation Signed into Law
Address by Governor Jack Markell
May 11, 2011
We are so blessed to be here tonight together.
We're here to recognize so much of what is so incredibly right about our state and with more than 600 people here, I think we're also here for a party.
It's fitting that we are here at World Café Live for this celebration.
In part, because of the energy and excitement around this great venue. This is a place of community, of coming together. And what's been built here at the Queen will be bringing people from all over the region to take a serious look at some of the best things about our state.
This bill is about those same things.
This is about a new energy and a new excitement. It's about a moment in our history - and make no mistake, because tonight is history - that came about because people came together, because it became clear that Delaware's LGBT community is in fact part of every Delaware community. And it's also clear tonight that the greater good is served when we speak out and when we fight hard, when we see that bias or prejudice or even outdated laws attempt to lessen any one of us.
And this bill gives us a chance, tonight and moving forward, for people all over the country to take a hard look at what is truly best about our state, whether they're looking to visit here, to move here, to build a business here or to raise a family here.
Now this is a night for a party - for a celebration - but I know that this celebration did not come about without a hard and hard-fought fight, where everybody who is here needed to play a part.
Each of you have made clear - loud and clear - that when it comes to civil rights in Delaware - when it comes to legally recognizing the rights of families to be families- that our laws would eventually catch up with our reality.
You made clear that, when it comes to civil rights - that justice would no longer be delayed and justice would no longer be denied.
Because of the years and years that you spent helping build the case, again and again, to the legislature with help from great leaders like Senator Sokola and Representative George, and all of these other magnificent legislators, our lieutenant governor and our insurance commissioner...
Because of years of making the case that justice needed to be heard, that families needed to be honored, that there are lives - there are actual lives - at stake...
Because of those years of working to make clear that this is about equal rights, not special rights, that this is about fairness and families, that this move to make justice more real honors the founding ideas of our state and of our country - freedom, equality, opportunity...
It's become clear that in Delaware - justice and equality move one way - and that is forward.
Because as you know, until 2009, it was actually legal in Delaware to fire somebody because of their sexual orientation. To deny them housing, to discriminate, based on who somebody loved. Because the march for equality moves forward, that discrimination is now outlawed.
Because, in Delaware, justice and equality move forward, when it became clear that for some parents - no matter how many diapers they had changed, no matter how many tears they had wiped away, no matter how many bedtime stories they had read,
When it became clear that, according to Delaware law, non-biological moms or dads might not be recognized as a child's mother or father, Delaware law moved forward again, and de facto parenting became law - because of your help.
And then, when those two laws passed, the anti-discrimination bill and the de facto parenting bill, the strangest thing happened.
Or, more importantly, didn't happen.
All the hyperbole, the sky that would fall or the businesses that would boycott if we started to actually deliver on the promise of equality - well, none of that came to pass - to some people's actual surprise.
And equality kept marching forward.
Tonight, with the signing of this law, we say to any Delawarean regardless of sexual orientation - if you have committed yourself to someone, and you've made that pledge to spend your life together in partnership, when life or death decisions come, we honor your right to make those decisions together.
Tonight, we say to loving and committed couples across the state who want the law to endorse the promise they made long ago in their hearts: Your love is equally valid and deserving, your family is now equal under the law.
And tonight, we say to children of gay and lesbian parents in committed relationships all over our state - and there are so many wonderful kids including many here tonight growing up in those families all over Delaware - we say to you: it doesn't matter if your parents are gay or straight - the people you love and look up to and that are dedicating their love and their lives to raising you - those are your parents.
Those are your parents. You are a family.
And while we've known it, and you've known it for years, tonight, that equality becomes real under law.
Thank you so much, to all of you who made tonight possible.