Saturday, June 27, 2015

Rainbow over Delaware...and beyond

"Joe is running through the halls with a rainbow flagged tied on like a cape high fiving everyone." Tweet attributed to Jill Biden on a parody Twitter account.

We moved into Delaware on June 29, 2013 and two days later, same sex marriage became legally recognized. Delaware was the 11th state to do so. Same sex marriage would become legal in Pennsylvania (where we left) a year later after a ruling in Federal court deemed bans on same-sex marriage to be unconstitutional. It is no secret that I felt religiously and politically stifled in the area where we used to live. The conservatism of Lancaster County is well known. When I was growing up our Congressional Representative was Bob Walker, known to be the most conservative voter in the House of Representatives. It is also an area where you are routinely asked What church do you go to?-- and church membership is a given. Note that the question was not Do you belong to a church? And in this case, church was a Christian church. Too many times, we had to explain Unitarian Universalism (our church home in Lancaster County) to people who couldn't fathom what we were talking about--even after we explained it.

So when we moved to Delaware just at the moment it was allowing same-sex marriage, it felt as though it was affirming us, too. I know that sounds silly, and I don't mean to make light of those who have real cause to celebrate the act of legislation. We are, after all, a heterosexual couple whose union has been recognized for 22 years before moving to this state. But something was lifted in us. We became a little more free to be the politically and religiously liberal folks we were.

Delaware has a few things to be proud of in this swing of the country toward marriage equality and one in particular: favored son and Vice President of the United States, Joe Biden. The democratic party hadn't been putting its neck on the line for the cause. They had been too quiet about gay issues since the whole debacle of Don't Ask, Don't Tell. What a mess that was. But Joe Biden came out for same sex unions during an appearance on Meet the Press on May 6, 2012
"I am absolutely comfortable with the fact that men marrying men, women marrying women and heterosexual men marrying women are entitled to the same exact rights. All the civil rights, all the civil liberties. And quite frankly I don’t see much of a distinction beyond that."
His remarks sent the White House scrambling to update their official position, which Obama delivered three days later in an interview. Maybe Obama was going to do it anyway--eventually--if the pollsters said it would help him his election--but Joe, in his trademark bluntness got the ball rolling and set the rainbow flag to unfurling. A mere three years later, we are celebrating the historic ruling of the Supreme Court of the United States of America that makes same-sex marriage the law of the land.

Joe Biden was instrumental in this landmark decision for another reason--he was on the Senate Judiciary committee when Justice Kennedy, who wrote for the majority in the decision, was nominated by Reagan and appointed. For those of you who can remember back to 1987, Kennedy was not Reagan's first choice. Reagan first nominated conservative judge Robert Bork for the Supreme Court opening. The nomination sparked massive protests from The Senate Democrats and Joe Biden, from his seat on the Judiciary committee, protested the nomination. Biden felt firmly that the Senate vote was put into place to balance an executive agenda that veered too far from center. Bork was not approved, and Reagan nominated Kennedy instead, knowing that his moderate stances would appease the democrats.
Justice Anthony Kennedy writes for the majority opinion: No union is more profound than marriage, for it embodies the highest ideals of love, fidelity, devotion, sacrifice, and family. In forming a marital union, two people become something greater than once they were. As some of the petitioners in these cases demonstrate, marriage embodies a love that may endure even past death. It would misunderstand these men and women to say they disrespect the idea of marriage. Their plea is that they do respect it, respect it so deeply that they seek to find its fulfillment for themselves. Their hope is not to be condemned to live in loneliness, excluded from one of civilization’s oldest institutions. They ask for equal dignity in the eyes of the law. The Constitution grants them that right. The judgment of the Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit is reversed.

I didn't really understand the impact. States had been dribbling in in support of same-sex unions. And now you can get married in every state in the union. I understood that. It wasn't until I was on Facebook and saw the post of one of my friends who lives in Texas. Angie had married her longtime love a little over a year ago in New York. She posted WE ARE LEGALLY MARRIED WHERE WE LIVE! The Supreme Court had affirmed Angie and her wife. Said that they were who they thought themselves to be and that they could carry that identity with them over state lines, wherever they happen to be in this country. I am thrilled for her and for all my friends who are now able to marry and carry their union from state to state. To be honest, I felt a little squeamish about celebrating our wedding anniversary in this country knowing that it was a privilege that not all couples had. This summer, Mark and I are celebrating our 25th wedding anniversary. It will be a great celebration here in Delaware.

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