Posted: Jan. 1, 2012
PURSUIT OF HAPPINESS
By Celia Cohen
Like the words of the Emancipation Proclamation, like the 19th Amendment recognizing that women have the right to vote, what always should have been finally came to be in Delaware on New Year's Day in a century-old stone church.
Drew Fennell and Lisa Goodman, long partners in life, became partners in law.
There were dead-enders who had vowed it would have to be a Spring day in January before civil unions were allowed, and guess what? It was. The heavens were beaming.
Fennell and Goodman, both lawyers, came to this day as the pathfinders for gay rights here.
Fennell, now the executive director of the Delaware Criminal Justice Council, was a force for an anti-discrimination law when she worked at the state chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union, and Goodman, a partner at Young Conaway Stargatt & Taylor, took the next step for a civil union law as the president of Equality Delaware, a statewide citizens organization.
Their ceremony on Sunday at noon took place in Wilmington at Trinity Episcopal Church, which was crammed -- crammed! -- with easily more than 300 family members, friends, and other well-wishers who took every seat in the sanctuary, stood in the aisles and packed into an overflow room on the first day that civil unions were authorized under the law signed in May.
This was an I-was-there moment in time.
When the question was asked of the congregation, "Will all of you witnessing these promises do all in your power to uphold these two persons in the covenant of holy union," people shouted, "We will!"
When the vows were done, the rings given and the words pronounced, "Those whom God has joined together let no one put asunder," the place was transported in a jubilant jumble of cries of amen, cheers, applause and a standing ovation. Joy.
To the joining of true minds and hearts, there would no longer be admitted impediments.
The political class could not stay away. John Carney, the Democratic congressman was there, and so were Paul Clark, the Democratic county executive, state legislators and judges, including Jack Jacobs, the Supreme Court justice, and Chandlee Johnson Kuhn, the chief judge of Family Court.
Bill Oberle, the former Republican state representative who introduced the gay rights bill more than a decade ago, as a lonely figure when no other legislator would take up the cause, also attended, as did Dave Sokola, the Democratic state senator who was the prime sponsor of the civil union bill.
"Just part of the evolutionary process," Oberle said.
"People are going to look back in 100 years and wonder what was the big deal," said Sally Oberle, who is married to Bill Oberle.
Matt Denn, the Democratic lieutenant governor, and Jan Jurden, a Superior Court judge, gave readings during the ceremony. The foursome -- Denn, Jurden, Fennell and Goodman -- had all practiced law together at one time at Young Conaway.
Chris Coons, the Democratic senator who has a Yale divinity degree along with his law degree, preached the sermon, and what a sermon it was. People applauded.
"In Christ's calling, there are no outcasts . . . in the radical reach of God's open-heart for us all," Coons said.
"You know, I've never before preached at a ceremony where there are 'best persons.' Drew and Lisa shared with me that their children were to serve as their 'best persons.' I had to respond, how perfect, how fitting, how Drew and Lisa!" he said.
"Today begins a new chapter, not just for Drew and Lisa, but for Delaware."
At the reception Ken Boulden, the Democratic clerk of the peace, presented the couple with the first civil union license issued by the state and the certificate of civil union Number 1, both framed magnificently. Lawyers or not, Fennell and Goodman were nearly speechless.
Fennell breathed more than spoke, "Thank you, thank you, thank you."
Goodman managed only an aside, "I'm so glad it's over."
Over? Hardly. This day solemnized not just a civil union but this country's covenant.
We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.
If a union before God and the state is not the pursuit of happiness, what is?