Sen. Karen Peterson’s Gay Marriage Speech
Party lines, civil rights city buses and gay marriage alike have elicited some colorful remarks from Delaware’s political leaders.
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Lincoln and Douglas were once members of the Illinois legislature. Delaware should be so lucky.
The oratory inside Legislative Hall in Dover is usually all marbles and no Demosthenes. He was the Greek who taught himself the art of speaking by putting pebbles, the ancient equivalent of marbles, in his mouth.
Joe Biden, one of the best speechmakers the state has ever had, avoided the place. He skipped directly from the New Castle County Council to the U.S. Senate and on to the vice presidency. Still, every now and then, not very often at all, the General Assembly has a moment where the words that are spoken are transcendent, and people remember for the rest of their lifetimes that they were there.
One of those times came in the most recent session. It was a moment involving fundamental rights, unalienable rights, and a roll call that was going to be close. The speaker was Karen Peterson, a Democratic state senator from Stanton, and the bill in question would go on to make Delaware the 11th state to legalize gay marriage.
Peterson’s remarks would be remembered like others that left their imprint on the legislature, whether for eloquence, wit or towering audacity. They are worth recalling.
Their Hearts Were Young and Gay
This is Delaware, where everybody likes to think they know everybody else. Peterson’s commitment with Vikki Bandy was not exactly a secret, but there is a difference between not keeping a secret and shouting from the mountaintop, and this was a go-tell-it-on-the-mountain circumstance.
Peterson waited until the debate was nearly over before she addressed the chamber. “My partner Vikki and I have been together for 24 years. We exchanged vows in the presence of a minister 23 years ago, and last year we entered into a civil union. Neither of us chose to be gay, any more than heterosexual people chose to be straight,” Peterson said.
“Like you, I didn’t wake up one morning and say, today’s the day, I’ve got to decide whether I want to be straight or gay. Nobody gets to make those decisions any more than we decide whether to be tall or short, black or white.
“We are what God made us. We don’t need to be fixed, we’re not broken, and we, like all other Americans, should have the right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. And if my happiness somehow demeans or diminishes your marriage, then you need to work on your marriage. We are not seeking to redefine marriage, we are seeking to expand the definition of marriage. … I never imagined that in my lifetime, society would recognize same-sex marriage.”
Within the hour after Peterson spoke, the Senate followed the House of Representatives in voting to approve the gay marriage bill, and Gov. Jack Markell signed it into law. He said he was not going to let gay Delawareans wait any longer.
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