June 30, 2013 at 11:47 pm EST | by Michael K. Lavers
Gay couples: Delaware marriage law brings recognition, equality

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)

Michael K. Lavers is the international news editor of the Washington Blade. Follow Michael

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