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“These.Are.Your.Parents.” (A Few Observations from Last Night’s Signing of Civil Unions Bill in Delaware)

May 12th, 2011 No comments

Before anyone could blink, civil unions became law in Delaware last night, when Gov. Jack Markell took to the stage at the Queen Theater (insert own joke) in Wilmington, and — after suitable fanfare, comments, and song — signed the bill. I was there, along with about 600 others (or, roughly, most of the state’s population) for the party.

IMG_0821 Here’s a picture of the Governor signing the law. His wife is the one in the sort of cool purple dress who’s bathing in angelic light. You can make out Equality Delaware’s Lisa Goodman (a Widener law alum, I’m proud to state) over on the left, behind the podium. She thanked basically every man, woman, and child in Delaware for their role in steering the bill through. The stage was crowded with legislators, singers, and — at the end — lots of the kids of the lesbian and gay-headed families who would soon be benefiting from this law.

I debated whether to attend. I don’t even live in Delaware, and — as I never tire of emphasizing — civil unions aren’t real equality, but a purposefully bestowed second-class citizenship. Indeed, there were times during the governor’s otherwise eloquent speech about freedom, liberty, and equality where I found myself saying: “Well, not exactly.”

Mostly, though, I managed to keep those thoughts at bay. The event was so joyous, so celebratory, that I put away my reservations — for a limited time only.

Two other observations:

First, Delaware really is small. I’ve made a (cheap) practice of ridiculing the size and insularity of the place (see above), but last night showed the upside. In a place where everyone knows everyone else, and where you really do have access to your legislators, it’s just harder to look your neighbor in the face and say: “I don’t care about you and your family.” And Delawarans didn’t: The bill passed easily.

Second, whatever its shortcomings, a civil union bill can make a real and practical difference in people’s lives. I was lucky enough to be standing near the stage and right next to a lesbian couple and their two kids. They’ve been foster-parenting for almost a year, and by now they should have been able to adopt their kids — except the judge who has control of the case wouldn’t let them. So they’ve been in foster-parent limbo (I’ve been exactly there).

IMG_0823Here they are, on the left, in the purple shirts that were created for the adoption but have been on ice because of the judge’s obstinacy.

Not anymore. Now the judge will have no choice but to recognize in law what anyone with a brain and a heart knows to be the case: This is a family. To paraphrase Gov. Markell, as he looked out over the sea of kids in attendance, parents are the ones who live as such: who are with the kids when they’re sick, who get them through the hard times, and so on. Looking at these happy kids, whose families now have validation in law, he said: “These.are.your.parents.”

“I’m Convinced that Lesbians Can Be Made”

June 29th, 2009 1 comment

Late last week, Delaware concluded a decade-long struggle, finally enacting the most basic anti-discrimination protection for gays and lesbians (but not the transgendered). The Governor is expected to sign the measure soon, thereby making Joe Biden’s home state the 21st state to offer workplace protection. The legislation also protects against discrimination in housing, public accommodations, and insurance.

The bill sailed through both chambers with broad, bipartisan support. This would have happened years ago had the measure been permitted to come to the floor of the State Senate for a vote. But one state senator had been able to kill the bill in committee again and again. It took his death to get the bill assigned to a different committee, where it was unanimously  voted forward to the full Senate.

It’s probably too easy to see the senator’s death as a metaphor for the passing of the kind of view that would deny basic workplace protection to gays and lesbians, but there’s something to it. Yet we need a few more celestial bodies to slam into the earth to vanquish all of the dinosaurs: Think about the fact that in a majority of states, one can still be fired or denied housing simply because of one’s sexual orientation or gender identity.

While the levers of power are tough to move, the vox populi is well past this issue. Overwhelming majorities of Americans support such non-discrimination laws. In large part, this support comes from the relatively recent recognition that sexual orientation is either genetically determined or so foundational to personal identity that it can’t or shouldn’t be changed. The ex-gay movement is all but an ex-movement by now, as more and more people live or work with openly gay men and lesbians, and understand that sexual orientation is as deeply rooted for them as for the straight majority.

Not state senator Robert Venables, though, who uttered the imperishable line that I’ve used for the title of this post. What “convinces” him that “lesbians can be made”? And does he think the same of gay men? Who cares? And even if he’s right(!), what difference should that make? He and the tiny minority of “no” voters represent the selvage of a view that was ascendant just a generation ago.

In desperation, opponents attempted to tack on several amendments, including one that would have effectively eviscerated the legislation by allowing reasons of belief or conscience to trump the anti-discrimination protection. This went nowhere.

As I prepare a series of posts on the new push to affix religious exemptions to marriage equality legislation, here’s a teaser: If we’re going to allow a broad religious exemption to allow discrimination against gay couples in connection with their wedding ceremony and surrounding events, why stop there? Why not allow religion to trump equality in the broader society? Thus far, there’s been little effort at systematically addressing this important issue by those who favor these broad religious exemptions. But the question can’t be avoided.