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Gay couples: Delaware marriage law brings recognition, equality

Same-sex nuptials to begin on Monday

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Deb Hamilton, Sherry Berman, marriage, Gay News, Washington Blade

Rehoboth Beach, Flair!, Chris Beagle, Eric Engelhart, gay news, Washington Blade

Rehoboth Beach residents Chris Beagle and Eric Engelhart, owners of event planning company Flair!, on the beach last September following their civil union. (Photo courtesy of the couple)

REHOBOTH BEACH, Del.—Rehoboth Beach realtor Chris Beagle, his partner of more than 23 years, Eric Engelhart, and a handful of friends spent a portion of their weekend placing white flowers, pictures and other personal mementos in the CAMP Rehoboth event space ahead of a ceremony on Monday during which they will convert their civil union into a marriage. They only left the LGBT community center on Sunday afternoon once the large blue cut outs of the first letters of Beagle and Engelhart’s first names used during the two men’s 2012 civil union ceremony were perfectly illuminated on the wall.

“It’s the end of a journey; it’s the culmination,” Beagle, who also co-owns a wedding planning company with Engelhart, told the Washington Blade. “It’s the end of a journey. It’s the culmination. It’s what we need to do to complete this process of legal recognition.”

Beagle and Engelhart are among the first gay and lesbian couples who will take advantage of Delaware’s same-sex marriage law that takes effect on Monday.

State Sen. Karen Peterson (D-Stanton,) who came out in May during the debate over the same-sex marriage bill that Gov. Jack Markell signed into law, and her partner, Vikki Bandy, will become the first legally married gay couple in Delaware when they convert their civil union into a marriage at the New Castle County Clerk of the Peace’s office in Wilmington.

“We have been together for almost 25 years, and I never thought we would live to see the day when we could be married in our home state,” Peterson told the Blade last week.

The Sussex County Clerk of the Peace in Georgetown will begin to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples at 8 a.m. on Monday, with doors opening at 7 a.m. The Kent County Clerk of the Peace in Dover will open at 8 a.m.

Sussex County Clerk of the Peace John Brady, who is gay, will officiate Beagle and Engelhart’s ceremony at CAMP Rehoboth at 10 a.m. Joseph Daigle, II, and Daniel Cole will become the first same-sex couple who had not previously entered into a civil union to tie the knot in Delaware when they exchange vows in Wilmington later on Monday.

No other same-sex weddings will take place in Delaware on Monday because the state did not waive the 24-hour waiting period for any other gay or lesbian couples.

Marriage to bring lesbian couple ‘credibility’

Sherry Berman and Deb Hamilton of Lewes, who have been together for 24 years, will exchange vows on the beach on Friday while their family is in the area for July 4.

“What it means is that there’s more credibility for us as a couple,” Berman told the Blade on Sunday afternoon, noting many retirees who live in their neighborhood told her that they had never known a gay couple before they met her and her soon-to-be-spouse. “We put our pants on the same way you do.”

Delaware on Monday will join 10 other states and D.C. in which same-sex couples can legally marry.

Gays and lesbians in Rhode Island and Minnesota will be able to legally tie the knot as of August 1.

Same-sex couples in California on June 28 began to once again exchange vows after the U.S. Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals lifted its stay on gay nuptials in the state in response to the U.S. Supreme Court ruling two days earlier that struck down Proposition 8. The justices on June 26 also released their decision that found a portion of the Defense of Marriage Act unconstitutional.

“It really is magnifying the importance of tomorrow,” Beagle said.

Berman told the Blade her partner’s brother called them after the Supreme Court issued their DOMA and Prop 8 rulings and said he would attend their wedding. She also noted how she feels Delaware has changed since Hamilton grew-up in Sussex County in which Lewes and Rehoboth Beach are located.

“She knows how awful, how not accepting, non-diverse it’s been,” Berman said. “So for a state like Delaware to recognize [same-sex marriage] is really important in the scheme of the entire country.”

Rehoboth Beach resident Bob Hoffer, whose 2012 marriage to Max Dick in New York City will become legally recognized in Delaware on Monday, described the state’s gay nuptials law taking effect as “wonderful.”

“We’re first-class citizens now as everyone,” Hoffer told the Blade as he helped Beagle and Engelhart decorate for their wedding at CAMP Rehoboth. “We’re not hurting anyone and heterosexual marriage is still going to continue. It’s just giving everyone the same rights.”

Gay couples remain undaunted by opponents, protests

Even though an Equality Delaware poll earlier this year showed 54 percent of the state’s voters support marriage rights for same-sex couples, those opposed to the issue continue to speak out.

The Delaware Family Policy Council said in a statement after the Supreme Court issued its DOMA and Prop 8 rulings that it “will continue to advance the truth about marriage between a man and a woman and why it matters for children, civil society and limited government.”

Members of the Westboro Baptist Church are scheduled to protest outside various locations in Wilmington and Dover on Monday.

“Give it time,” Berman said, referring to same-sex marriage opponents. “Learn to like us; learn to know who we are. Listen to us. We’re not out to hurt you or to cause you any harm.”

Beagle said he respects both the Constitution and freedom of speech, but noted both the state of Delaware and he Supreme Court have spoken on the issue of marriage.

“What I would say to those people (who oppose same-sex marriage) is it’s now your turn to respect those decisions that have been made,” he said.

Deb Hamilton, Sherry Berman, marriage, Gay News, Washington Blade

Deb Hamilton and Sherry Berman of Lewes, Del. (Photo courtesy Sherry Berman)

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District of Columbia

Cherry Fund files lawsuit  against Republiq Hall

LGBTQ nonprofit says breach of contract led to $137,000 in lost revenue

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Cherry Fund claims Republiq Hall canceled a contract for one of its popular events. (Washington Blade file photo by Michael Key)

Cherry Fund, the D.C.-based nonprofit organization that has raised money for HIV/AIDS, mental health, and LGBTQ organizations for the past 27 years, filed a lawsuit in D.C. Superior Court on May 31 charging Republiq Hall, a large entertainment venue in Northeast D.C, with abruptly and improperly cancelling Cherry Fund’s reservation to rent the hall for an April 6 event expected to draw 2,000 paid guests.

The event was to be one of several circuit dance parties that Cherry Fund produces as part of its annual Cherry weekend in April, which has raised several million dollars for LGBTQ related organizations since the Cherry weekend  events began in 1996.  

The lawsuit, which charges Republiq Hall with breach of contract, says the contract signed by the two parties in January called for Cherry Fund to pay Republiq Hall an initial deposit of $3,500 on Jan. 10, 2024, to be applied to a nonrefundable rental fee totaling $7,000 for the one-time use of the space on April 6.

Republiq Hall is located in a large former warehouse building at 2122 24th Place, N.E., near the intersection of Bladensburg Road and New York Avenue. 

According to the lawsuit, under the contract, Cherry Fund “was responsible for promoting the event, booking talent, and managing ticket sales,” with Cherry Fund to “retain all door fee revenues and a percentage of the net bar sales.”

The lawsuit states, “On February 28, after Plaintiff had already begun promoting the event and booking talent, the Defendant unilaterally and without just cause demanded an additional $9,000 from the Plaintiff. When the Plaintiff refused to pay the additional amount, the Defendant cancelled the reservation.”

 As a result of Republiq Hall’s action, the lawsuit states, Cherry Fund was “forced to book an alternative venue with significantly less capacity, resulting in substantial financial losses.” 

It says as a direct result of the alleged breach of contract, Cherry Fund “suffered financial damages in the amount of $130,000 in lost door fees and $7,000 in a lost percentage of the net bar sales that were estimated to be collected on the date of the event.”

A spokesperson for Republiq Hall did not respond to a phone message from the Washington Blade requesting a comment and a response to the lawsuit’s allegations.

Court records show that Superior Court Judge Juliet J. McKenna, who is presiding over the case, scheduled an initial hearing for the case on Sept. 6. McKenna issued an order providing guidance for how a civil litigation case should proceed that includes a requirement that Republiq Hall must file a response to the lawsuit within 21 days of being officially served a copy of the lawsuit complaint.

Sean Morris, the Cherry Fund president, issued a statement expressing disappointment over the developments leading to the lawsuit.

“Our organization, powered by volunteer efforts, relies on our annual event to fundraise for local non-profits,” he said. “This abrupt and unforeseen demand, and subsequent cancellation, has severely affected our ability to support vital community programs focused on HIV/AIDS, mental health, and LGBTQ+ advocacy,” Morris says in his statement.

The lawsuit concludes by stating, “The Plaintiff, the Cherry Fund, respectfully requests the following relief: Direct compensatory damages for the lost benefits it was entitled to under the terms of the contract; Restitution for the benefits retained by the Defendant in unjust enrichment; Reasonable attorney fees and costs of this action; and Any other relief this court deems just and proper.”

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Maryland

Silver Spring Pride sign rebuilt in memory of beloved neighbor

GoFundMe campaign has raised more than $4,000

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Tony Brown's neighbors help repaint the Pride sign his late partner created in their Silver Spring, Md., neighborhood. (Photo courtesy of Molly Chehak)

Residents of Silver Spring’s Rosemary Hills neighborhood have come together to rebuild a Pride sign. 

The sign was constructed in June 2020, and was meant to stay in place throughout Pride Month. Neighborhood residents, however, requested it stay up past its intended month-long display, and has remained in place for more than four years. 

The sign spelling LOVE is at the neighborhood’s entrance between Sundale and Richmond Streets. It was made from plywood and the O was painted in the colors of the Pride flag.

“We wanted to take it down, but we just felt it was not ours anymore and belonged to the neighborhood.” Tony Brown told the Washington Blade during a telephone interview. “It was a positive thing for the neighborhood and began to take on a life of its own.” 

Brown and his partner, Mike Heffner, designed the sign and said the Black Lives Matter movement inspired them to create it as a strong symbol of an accepting community.

The sign was vandalized numerous times last fall, resulting in neighborhood residents taking turns repairing it. Brown and his partner could not do the repairs themselves because Heffner was fighting Stage 4 lung cancer.

Heffner passed away on Oct. 6, 2023.

A GoFundMe page was set up to help raise funds for the replacement Pride sign, and it has raised more than $4,000. The replacement sign is more permanent and made of metal.

“I can’t speak for the neighborhood overall, but people who knew Mike I think are happy that we were able to honor his memory with this sign because this sign is so him,” Molly Chebak, a friend who lives next door to Brown, told the Blade. “He (Heffner) was an outgoing super social (person) who just made you feel good the way this sign does. It’s a perfect tribute to him.” 

Chebak and other neighbors created the GoFundMe account.

Heffner’s family and his neighbors are still working to rebuild the Pride sign. It has become a memorial to Heffner.

“We wanted to do one that was clearly a Pride reference,” said Brown, noting the L is a fully painted Pride flag that spirals across the entire letter. 

“For the O we wanted to do something reminiscent of times in the past, a throwback to the 60’s and 70’s so it’s a hippie montage of flowers and butterflies,” he said. 

Brown described the V as being colorful, nonbinary people hugging each other with the idea that love is more than what one may see. 

“During COVID, he had started painting rocks and putting kind and fun messages on them leaving them around places as sort of a pay it forward Karma and so the E is basically that stylized writing and to embrace a bunch of ways we embrace love,” he said. 

The final letter had the phrase “love is love” written repeatedly in various handwritings to pay homage to Heffner and what he did for his neighborhood during the pandemic.  Brown’s four daughters — one of whom is a professional artist — and their friends designed it.

The landscape around the sign has also been transformed with rocks that honors Heffner’s love for Rosemary Hills and his passion for rocks.

Chebak also said Heffner always wanted a bench, and neighbors are looking to install one soon next to the Pride sign.

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District of Columbia

D.C.’s beloved Duplex Diner closes its doors

Owners looking to open new location in Rehoboth Beach

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Duplex Diner owners Mark Hunker and Jeff McCracken. (Washington Blade file photo by Michael Key)

Owners of D.C.’s Duplex Diner announced Tuesday that they closed the business immediately after the landlord terminated a sub-lease last month. They also announced that they are searching for a new location in Rehoboth Beach, Del., to open a “Duplex 2.0.”

A note posted to the door reads as follows: “On May 31st JAM Holdings, owners of Duplex Diner since 2014, were notified by our landlord that he was terminating our sub-lease effective July 31, 2024. We have come to an agreement to sell our assets to our general manager who will be creating a new concept in this location, but unfortunately, we must close effective immediately.

“This decision is not made lightly. We know how much The Duplex Diner has meant to so many people who worked here, played here, had our rosé-all-day here, laughed here, cried here, over-imbibed here, celebrated here, found love here, and trusted us enough to leave credit cards on file here. Like us, we hope you have memories that last a lifetime. We leave this community with love and gratitude and will miss this beloved neighborhood institution more than we can describe. Thank you all for making The Duplex Diner a stop on your journey! Stay tuned though! JAM Holdings is searching for a location in Rehoboth Beach to open Duplex 2.0 and continue its legacy.”

The Diner’s general manager, Kelly Laczko, posted a message on social media indicating that she plans to reopen under a new name in the same space. She wrote, “While the Duplex Diner owners may have closed the original spot abruptly, we will be opening your next hang in this location. We remember your order, know where you sit and when you left your credit card. … More to come.”

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