Alumna Plays Key Role in Passage of Delaware Marriage Equality Law
Web Editor - Published: May 8, 2013

Lisa Goodman '94 stands directly to the left of Delaware Governor Jack Markell as he holds up House Bill 75 after signing it into law.

“Marriage equality has been a long time coming, and has also come sooner than even I would have believed. Both nationally and in Delaware, a majority of citizens and of legislators believe that all loving couples should be treated equally under the law,” says 1994 Widener Law alumna Lisa Goodman, the President of Equality Delaware and a partner at the Wilmington law firm of Young Conaway Stargatt & Taylor LLP of the recent passage of House Bill 75 in the Delaware Legislature.

A New Paradigm

Goodman spoke this past November to students on Widener Law’s Delaware campus about marriage equality efforts in Delaware, saying of the passage of the civil union bill at that time, “Is it the end of the road? No. Are we going to be fully engaged in going for marriage? Yes.”

Now, half-a-year later, that push has paid dividends with Delaware Governor Jack Markell signing House Bill 75 into law just minutes after it passed in a vote by the State Senate on Tuesday, May 7th. The bill, which passed the State House of Representatives on April 23rd, authorizes same-sex marriages beginning on July 1, 2013.

“Thanks to the work of an incredible network of volunteers, Equality Delaware built the biggest grassroots network I believe Delaware has ever seen. We generated the largest constituent outreach ever done for a legislative issue. Almost 20,000 contacts to legislators came through our efforts - a combination of phone calls, emails, and over 500 handwritten letters,” says Goodman of the incredible efforts, adding “And that total number doesn't reflect the thousands of people who made calls or wrote letters not tracked by us.”

“Lisa Goodman deserves tremendous credit for her work with Equality Delaware. Her tireless efforts in educating and then lobbying people to do the right thing were, in the end, irresistible," says Professor John G. Culhane, who has written extensively on marriage equality and the rights of same-sex couples.

The law does not provide any additional rights or benefits beyond what existed in the previous civil union provisions. Delaware will immediately cease offering civil union licenses, and existing civil unions will automatically convert into marriages as of July 1, 2014, though couples that do not wish to wait will be able to apply for a marriage license beginning on July 1, 2013. Exemptions comparable to those that exist in other states will allow clergy and churches the freedom to follow their own doctrines, and they will have the ability to choose which marriages they are willing to perform.

“Civil unions provided critical state level protections and recognitions for our families,” Goodman says, but she expresses doubts that the previous passage of the civil union bill was the true tipping point, saying, “Given the developments across the nation and at the federal level, 2013 would have been the year for marriage equality in Delaware whether or not Delaware had civil unions. I am so proud of the leadership of Governor Markell, and of the incredible work of our prime sponsors, Representative Melanie George Smith and Senator David Sokola. Combined with the leadership and determination of President Pro Tem Senator Patricia Blevins and Speaker of the House Pete Schwartzkopf, Delaware is now a state that recognizes, effective July 1st, that all loving couples are equal under the law.”

Forward Momentum

"The marriage equality movement has really come of age, and the recent success of the movement here in Delaware makes the point dramatically,” says Culhane, adding, “The civil union law went into effect only last year, and already it's been swamped by this much better measure, which removes the ‘separate but equal’ stamp that the civil union laws impose. Now, committed same-sex couples in Delaware will be able to say – honestly – that the state regards them as equal citizens."

“The speed at which change has come is a pure demonstration of the power of people coming out - to their families, friends, co-workers and others. If anyone would have told me that, two years after we passed Civil Unions, DADT would be repealed, the President and Vice-President would be publicly in support of marriage equality, we would have won four ballot initiatives in the 2012 elections (after previously never having a ballot initiative victory) and that the so-called "Defense of Marriage Act" would be in front of the Supreme Court of the United States with every reason to believe that there are at least five votes to overturn Section 3 - I would have never believed it,” agrees Goodman.

Goodman also remarked on the powerful words of Senator Karen Peterson, who came out publicly on the floor of the Senate and spoke about her 24-year relationship. The bill passed the senate shortly after Peterson’s remarks.

“We still need everyone to come out - as either a member of our LGBT community, or as a straight ally. No young person should ever have cause to believe that they are alone," Goodman states.

"By the end of June, I fully expect that the Supreme Court will have declared the Defense of Marriage Act unconstitutional, and will also strike down Proposition 8, thereby letting same-sex marriages go forward in California. But these legislative victories, with both Rhode Island and Delaware joining the march within a week of each other, are also vital as we build a national consensus for equality," concludes Culhane.