Posted: April 24, 2013
HOUSE MEMBERS SAY "WE DO" TO GAY MARRIAGE
By Celia Cohen
The naysayers to gay marriage really did not put up much of a fight.
The vote in the House of Representatives was historic, but the debate was not. It looked fated, along with the arguments against legalizing gay marriage here in Delaware, to be gone with the wind.
For two hours, more in resignation than resistance, the opposition clung to the world view that marriage is an institution reserved for one man and one woman, but the roll call said otherwise.
The House on Tuesday gave the gay marriage legislation, House Bill 75, a sendoff with two votes to spare, 23-18, on its way to the Senate, where the tally for passage appears to be solidifying, although not yet secure.
The Senate is the last hurdle because Jack Markell, the Democratic governor who would have to sign the bill into law, is one of its biggest backers.
The opponents turned to a strange shield in their stand to preserve marriage as they know it. Civil unions. They have morphed into champions of civil unions, two years after they tried mightily to keep them from coming into existence, as the means to wall off gay couples from marriage.
"We all have rights under the law. If we need to redefine some things about marriage for same-sex couples, I believe we need to do it under civil unions," said Tim Dukes, a Republican rookie representative from Laurel, as well as the pastor of Central Worship Center in his home town.
The debate raised arguments that were thought to be settled decades and decades ago.
The opponents feared for the "right of conscience" for the likes of wedding photographers, florists and caterers who object to gay marriage, an echo of the old defense that restaurants and inns open to the public should not have to serve black patrons if they were unwelcome.
It did not seem to matter that Delaware passed a public accommodations law, guaranteeing access to all, in 1963.
"Ironically, these people are sticking to their beliefs, and because the government has imposed this bill upon them, that they're the ones being discriminated against," said Bill Carson, a Democratic representative from Smyrna.
There was even the return of the old separate-but-equal doctrine, thrown out by the Supreme Court in the landmark school integration case of Brown v. Board in 1954.
It was heard in an exchange between Joe Miro, a Republican representative from Pike Creek Valley, and Mark Purpura, a lawyer who is an officer of Equality Delaware, an advocacy group for gay marriage, as Miro declared that civil unions bestowed an equal, if separate, status on gay couples.
"They have all the rights that anyone else would have," Miro said.
"The difference is that people are being treated unequally, they're being prohibited from marrying," Purpura said.
Nothing crystallized the debate better than the plain eloquence of Harvey Kenton, a Republican representative from Milford.
"I hear the word 'equality,' but to me it's a moral issue, it's how I was raised," Kenton said.
The vote in the House, where the Democrats outnumber the Republicans by 27-14, broke largely along party lines.
Mike Ramone, a Republican from Pike Creek Valley, was the only one from his party to vote "yes," while Carson was one of five Democrats to vote "no," along with John Atkins from Millsboro, Earl Jaques from Glasgow, Trey Paradee from Clayton and Charles Potter Jr. from Wilmington.
There was also a heavy geographical influence on the vote in a state where the farther south it goes, the more conservative it seems to get. The lone "yes" vote below Dover was cast by Pete Schwartzkopf, the Democratic speaker who represents gay-friendly Rehoboth Beach.
It was a vote that seemed to double back on itself. The people who fought so hard for civil unions are trying just as hard to make them obsolete.