U.S. Sen. Chris Coons (D-Del.) attended separate civil union ceremonies in Wilmington on New Year’s Day for a gay male and lesbian couple who became the first two same-sex couples to be joined under Delaware’s civil unions law.
“It was very nice to have a senator in attendance as well as lots of family and friends,” said Mac Gardner, who was joined in the ceremony with his partner of 15 years, Michael Clement.
Earlier in the day, Lisa Goodman, an attorney and president of Equality Delaware, and her partner, attorney Drew Fennell, became the first couple to be joined under the law, which the Delaware Legislature passed and Democratic Gov. Jack Markell signed in April.
The Hawaii civil unions law, which passed in the state legislature last February, also took effect on Jan. 1.
“This new law will provide a much needed legal framework to support and fortify the bonds between couples and families,” said Gigi Lee, co-chair of Equality Hawaii Foundation, a statewide LGBT group.
Although the Delaware civil unions law took effect Jan. 1, civil union ceremonies weren’t expected to begin until Jan. 3, when county offices that issue both marriage and civil union licenses were scheduled to reopen following the New Year’s holiday.
But Kenneth Boulden, Clerk of the Peace for New Castle County, which includes the City of Wilmington, took the unusual step of opening his office on New Year’s Day for couples that wished to obtain a civil union license and undergo a civil union ceremony on the day the law went into effect.
According to Gardner, Boulden also issued a one-time waiver of a required 24-hour hold on the issuance of a civil union license to enable same-sex couples to partake in civil unions on that day. The 24-hour hold also applies for marriage licenses.
“It was really nice of him to do that,” said Gardner. “He is a strong supporter of the civil unions.”
Boulden told the Blade that as of noon on Tuesday – the first day that the state’s three counties began to issue civil union licenses on a normal basis – 16 such licenses had been issued by New Castle County, four had been issued from Kent County, and 12 had been issued by Sussex County, which includes the popular gay resort town of Rehoboth Beach.
A total of about 50 civil union licenses were expected to be issued in all three counties by the end of the day on Tuesday, Boulden said.
“There were no glitches in the system,” he said. “Everything went smoothly.”
Steve Elkins, executive director of CAMP Rehoboth, an LGBT community center and service organization in Rehoboth, said the town’s first civil union was to take place at the center on Wednesday.
Unlike Boulden, the Clerk of the Peace in the conservative-oriented Sussex County, George Parish, spoke out against the civil unions law at the time it was pending before the legislature. Elkins said that after the legislature approved the measure, Parish promised to comply with its requirement that civil union licenses be issued to same-sex couples.
Parish couldn’t be immediately reached for comment.
“My hope is it will be handled just like any other marriage license,” Elkins said.
The Hawaii law took effect nearly 20 years after a battle over same-sex marriage in the state triggered a flurry of state constitutional amendments that ban same-sex marriage in more than 20 states, including Hawaii.
The state bans on same-sex marriage followed a 1993 decision by the Hawaii Supreme Court that declared Hawaii’s constitution prohibited the state from preventing same-sex couples from marrying. The state legislature responded by adopting a constitutional amendment, later ratified by voters, that defined marriage in the state as a union only between one man and one woman.
While calling the passage of a civil unions bill in Hawaii a “momentous and unprecedented step forward,” officials with Equality Hawaii said their ultimate goal is to bring about full marriage rights for same-sex couples.
“Marriage is still the ultimate expression of love and commitment in our society,” said Alan Spector, a member of the group’s advisory board. “To argue this isn’t the case for same-sex couples is to deny their very membership in society and their investment in its collective belief and aspirations.”