WILMINGTON, Del. (CBS/AP) — Two silver-haired women made Delaware history Monday, becoming the first same-sex couple to legally wed under the state’s new gay marriage law.
Democratic state Sen. Karen Peterson and her longtime partner, Vikki Bandy, both 63, exchanged vows in front of about 35 friends and supporters in a county clerk’s office, converting their civil union into a same-sex marriage.
“I, Vikki, take you for my lawfully wedded wife,” Bandy said as she and Peterson held hands.
Peterson responded in kind, both women putting exaggerated emphasis on the word “lawfully.”
Standing in front of a painted backdrop of an oceanside verandah, the two then exchanged rings, as New Castle County clerk of the peace Ken Boulden looked on.
“By the power and authority vested in me by the state of Delaware, it is my special honor and privilege to pronounce you legally married,” Boulden said.
Lisa Goodman, president of Equality Delaware, a gay rights group that drafted the same-sex marriage legislation and led the effort to get it passed, wiped away tears as the ceremony drew to a close.
“So many of us have been working for this day and walking down what at times seemed such a long road to get here,” Goodman said. “I was overcome with joy and relief that this day is here.”
Goodman and her partner, Drew Fennell, the first couple to enter into a same-sex civil union in Delaware, got their own marriage license Monday and planned a small solemnization ceremony later in the day at a local Episcopal church.
Boulden, the clerk of the peace, waived the required 24-hour waiting period for Goodman and Fennell, as he did for Peterson and Bandy.
Boulden said Monday afternoon that about 35 licenses had been granted, with several more couples waiting before the office was to close at 4 p.m.
Under a law that took effect Monday, no more civil unions will be performed in Delaware, and existing civil unions will be converted to marriages over the next year.
A half-dozen members of Westboro Baptist Church, a Kansas congregation that believes God is punishing America for its acceptance of homosexuality, protested in front of the city-county building in Wilmington, holding signs, including one reading “Sin is not a civil right.”
They were countered by more than 100 supporters of the new gay marriage, who sang and held signs of their own, separated from the Westboro group by a line of police officers. “Keep Calm and Marry On,” the sign of one supporter read.
For Peterson and Bandy, their marriage ceremony was simply a reaffirmation of the commitment they made to each other more than two decades ago, when they first exchanged the rings they wore Monday.
“Today, we were married in your eyes,” Bandy said afterward, “but in our eyes, we’ve been married for 24 years.”
Delaware became the 11th state in the nation to allow same-sex marriage when Democratic Gov. Jack Markell signed a gay marriage bill into law in May, just minutes after its final passage in the legislature.
The same-sex marriage bill was introduced in the Democrat-controlled legislature barely a year after the state began recognizing same-sex civil unions.
“The speed with which we got here surprised even me,” said Goodman, who spearheaded the fight for both same-sex civil unions and gay marriage.
Peterson, who came out as gay on the Senate floor during debate on the same-sex marriage bill, said the shift in Delaware toward recognition of gay marriage seemed to begin several years ago with the effort to ban discrimination based on sexual orientation, leading to legislation that Markell signed into law in 2009.
“It seems like eight years ago, somebody threw a switch and things started to change,” she said.
“It’s exciting both historically and personally,” Peterson added. ” … I never thought in our lifetime we’d be getting married.”
Bandy credited the spreading acceptance of gay marriage to the work of young activists around the country.
Two of those activists, Joseph Daigle and Daniel Cole, wed Monday evening in Wilmington before about 300 guests, becoming the first same-sex couple in Delaware not currently in a civil union to be married.
Daigle said it had been raining during Monday evening’s ceremony, but the sun came out in the middle of the event.
“It’s wonderful to get married, and we’re happy to be married, but we’re happy to share it with the community and share the celebration for equality,” Daigle said. “It’s much larger than a celebration of ourselves or our relationship…. It’s a whole community engagement.”
Daigle, 24, and Cole, 23, met in 2009 on a bus ride to Washington, D.C., for an equality march while both were students at the University of Delaware.
Cole, a legal aide in Boulden’s office, helped work on the technical implementation aspects of Delaware’s gay marriage bill, and Daigle, a financial adviser and vice president of political action for the Delaware Stonewall Democrats, lobbied for passage of the legislation.
Unlike Peterson, both men were confident that Delaware would eventually recognize same-sex marriage, although both expected the fight would take several more years.
“We see ourselves as participants,” Daigle said. “There are decades of activists who have come before us.”
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