REHOBOTH BEACH — The story of Lynda Goold and Debbie Cutler began as many couples’ stories do — serendipity. Ms. Goold said they met at a mutual friend’s straight wedding, and quite frankly, they both didn’t want to be there.
“Six years later, here we are,” Ms. Goold said, as she and Debbie stood among more than 130 people gathering to discuss the prospect of a marriage equality bill for Delaware at Equality Delaware’s second marriage town hall meeting Thursday night at Camp Rehoboth.
On Wednesday nearly 150 community members came out to the first meeting in Wilmington, including Sen. Chris Coons, D-Del. The marriage town hall at Camp Rehoboth brought Equality Delaware’s mission full circle — on Jan. 1, 2012, the civil union bill was signed in that very room.
“We think our chances are really good,” said Lisa Goodman, president of Equality Delaware’s board, of a marriage equality bill passing. “We can do it, but it’s going to involve work.”
Nicole Theis, president of Delaware Family Policy Council, said those opposing same-sex marriage predicted this proposed legislative agenda since the passage of same-sex civil unions last year.
During Gov. Jack A. Markell’s first term, the state’s Civil Union and Equality Act of 2011 recognized civil unions between same-sex couples and provided partners the same rights, benefits, protections and responsibilities afforded to married couples under Delaware law.
John F. Brady, rookie Sussex County Clerk of the Peace, came out to hear Equality Delaware’s 2013 plan. With the passing of the same-sex civil union bill, he said there were 149 female and 99 male civil unions in 2012.
“It’s been a labor of love in my first month as clerk of the peace; we’ve just been so busy with ceremonies,” he said.
In 2013, he said it will be interesting to see the repercussions of a county ordinance passed by Sussex County Coucil for same-sex military couples. The ordinance, he said, allows military veterans and current members in the service to receive a wedding license at no charge and with the way the legislation was written — it included civil unions.
“They weren’t expecting that,” he said,
The Rev. W. Francis Malooly, bishop of the Catholic Diocese of Wilmington, issued a Pastoral Letter Friday in which he reiterated the church’s teaching on marriage. He called to mind verses in the Bible which define marriage between a man and a woman,and the necessary foundation for a family.
Ms. Goodman said it is important to open a dialog with faith leaders on Equality Delaware’s mission in hopes to work to find a common ground.
In an interview last week, she said the tides are changing. New York has adopted marriage equality, and with Rhode Island passing a marriage equality bill in its House of Representatives and making moves to pass the bill in the Senate, all of New England could potentially have legalized gay marriage. She said Delaware is another state that soon could follow suit.
“Marriage equality says your love and commitment is the same as anybody else, and we are a state that values equality,” Ms. Goodman said.
With legislation for a marriage equality bill on the table, Ms. Goodman said the organization’s approach is essentially the same — engage Delawareans who support marriage equality and work with the General Assembly by way of calm, heartfelt conversations.
“A bill like this requires the engagement of all fair-minded people in Delaware, both members of our community and lots and lots of amazing allies,” she said.
House Speaker Rep. Peter C. Schwartzkopf, D-Rehoboth Beach, has been a staunch supporter of equal marriage rights for Delawareans.
“I’m a common sense person that believes in treating people fairly. If that makes me liberal, then so be it,” Rep. Schwartzkopf said.
He urged the community members at the meeting to reach out to their local legislators to make them aware of the importance of marriage equality, especially through phone calls or independently.
With national polling in favor of marriage equality, as well as the passage of a marriage equality bill by neighboring state Maryland via referendum this past election, the time to act is now, he said.
“I think we lost a couple votes on the civil union side, but that was then, this is now; a lot of things have changed,” he said.
Ms. Goold said her daughter, Kasey Lyn, testified on the floor in front of Delaware’s House of Representatives and Senate for the civil union bill in 2011. Kasey Lyn said it was the proudest moment of her life.
“I am excited to see this go much further than it did,” she said. “I think it’s time we’re progressing”