July 1 was a day Eric Engelhart never thought he would ever see.
Engelhart and partner Chris Beagle became the first same-sex couple to hold a marriage ceremony in Sussex County when they tied the knot at CAMP Rehoboth in Rehoboth Beach. Englehart admitted he was a bit nervous, fighting back tears as he and Beagle exchanged vows in front of a packed house in CAMP Rehoboth’s community center. The couple wed on the first day same-sex couples were allowed to marry in Delaware.
“It’s a very special time,” he said. “Because we were the first ones, we’re like the poster boys. It feels good for the recognition. We feel really lucky to be the first. When we were in our 20s, we never thought this would be possible.”
It has been a good week for those in favor of marriage equality: in addition to Delaware’s marriage law taking effect, the U.S. Supreme Court struck down the Defense of Marriage Act as unconstitutional, giving same-sex couples access to federal marriage benefits.
The court also paved the way for same-sex couples to marry in California after its ruling to let stand a lower court’s opinion that Proposition 8 was unconstitutional. In that case, the initiative was declared unconstitutional, and state officials declined to appeal. In a 5-4 decision, the court held that citizens did not have standing to bring the case when the state itself refused to do so.
The marriage ceremony was short, Engelhart and Beagle reading vows they each had written. The ceremony concluded with a champagne toast and a speech by the newly married couple.
“We are so proud to be Delawareans today,” Beagle said. “We are tremendously honored by this. This day is a lot more than just us. Across the state today, same-sex couples are going to enjoy the moment that we have just now.”
He said the day was more about future generations who will now be able to get married like anyone else.
Earlier in the day, a handful of couples waited outside Sussex County administrative offices to convert their civil unions into marriages. Among them were Mary Hudson and Lynn Ekelund of Milton, the first couple in the county to be joined in civil union Jan. 4, 2012. Hudson and Ekelund were also the first female same-sex couple to be legally married in Delaware.
Sussex County Clerk of Peace John Brady said Sussex is the first county in Delaware to begin issuing marriage licenses. "I wanted to make it special, so I opened at 7 a.m.," he said.
Beagle and Engelhart also appeared early to turn their civil union into a marriage. The couple has been together more than 20 years, and Englehart said he was more nervous during the marriage ceremony than for his civil union in September.
“It was never on our radar to be able to even do something like this. Before they introduced the bill for civil unions, we never even thought about it,” Engelhart said. “Now that we can do it, why not? Here we are!”