More Light in Delaware Marriage Campaign

“We believe 2013 is the right time for marriage [equality] in Delaware,” said Wilmington attorney Lisa Goodman, president of Equality Delaware. After winning passage of Delaware’s civil unions bill in 2011, Equality Delaware ramped up its marriage equality campaign last week. First and Central Presbyterian Church, a welcoming and affirming More Light Church in Wilmington, hosted one of two meetings to launch the campaign. The church also hosts weekly meetings for Equality Delaware.

U. S. Sen. Chris Coons, a friend of First and Central’s pastor Rev. Dr. Douglas D. Gerdts, attended the campaign launch. Rev. Gerdts served as guest chaplain to the Senate at the invitation of Sen. Coons in September. “Reverend Gerdts leads the congregation at First and Central Presbyterian Church in Wilmington,” wrote Sen. Coons. “Each time I join with him on Sunday mornings, …I’m challenged by his passionate sermons and I leave engaged for the week rooted in my faith and moved forward by his words and by his leadership.”

According to Delaware Online, Sen. Coons called the campaign a “really exciting next chapter in Delaware’s steady march to equality.”

Coons said it is his “hope and prayer” that the nation’s high court repeals DOMA, saying “marriage equality is a fundamental human right.”

Like Goodman and Purpura, he called for swift action.

“It’s time,” he said. “It’s long past time.”

Coons is one of many elected officials who are strong supporters, from President Barack Obama and Vice President Joe Biden to numerous state representatives and senators, Goodman said.

Sen. Coons, a graduate of Yale Divinity School, delivered the sermon at the civil union ceremony of Equality Delaware president Lisa Goodman in January. Lisa Goodman and Drew Fennell, partners for 14 years, were the first same gender civil union in Delaware. In the sermon delivered by Sen. Coons, he shares his Christian convictions for same gender marriage.

Let me draw your attention to the Gospel reading, as well. For a couple that has had a long journey to this day, for a couple that has, at times, had to endure a culture that, in some places, has not respected them, has not regarded them, has not lifted them up as you have, they chose a Gospel that essentially says this: “Do not judge, and you will not be judged. Do not condemn, and you will not be condemned. Forgive, and you will be forgiven. Give, and it will be given to you.” The generosity of spirit, the kindness, the open-heartedness with which they chose that as their central Scripture from the Gospel, resonates, I think, with all of us who know them, of their tireless commitment to kindness, matched with an equally fearless insistence on justice.

Rarely have I known two people whose hearts have been so entwined in balance and so willing to witness to the broader world from their own experience informed by grace.

Let me, last, reflect on this. All three of us are lawyers — a confession that may not surprise any of you. And as such, we have spent most of our adult lives wrestling with the law. Working with the law. Trying to change it, challenge it, interpreting it, writing it. To those who would, in my view, misinterpret the law in a spiritual, Scriptural context, to prohibit this union, I would point them to one last passage, if I might. At a moment in the Gospel, when Christ is being challenged unsuccessfully by the Pharisees and the Sadducees, when they ask Him to do an interpretation on a piece of law that is designed to get Him in trouble, He deftly moves from their trap. This is a passage of Matthew in the 22nd chapter, where after a series of encounters, Christ challenges us and the law.

Let me read, if I might, from Matthew 22. “When the Pharisees heard that He had silenced the Sadducees, they gathered together and one of them — a lawyer — asked Him a question to test Him. Teacher, what commandment of the law is the greatest?” He said, “you shall love the Lord, your God, with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the greatest and first commandment. And the second is like it. You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments hang all the law and the Prophets.”

Then I say, to those who would miss this most fundamental message — this radical message — of inclusion, of hope, of welcoming, and of love, in the Gospel, in my view, we are called to build the beautiful community in this life not through subtraction, but through addition, not through exclusion, but by inclusion. By listening to that most fundamental relationship. By challenging our definition of neighbor, and by opening our heart to the radical love offered to us.

Today begins a new chapter not only for Drew and for Lisa, but for Delaware. Our state is, today, taking another great and bold step forward. And, in my view, the love we celebrate today, between Lisa and Drew, is no less real and ought to be no less respected in the law, and our community, than the love my wife and I share.

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