Delaware Stonewall Democrats celebrated a successful year at Legislative Hall and honored the state’s civil rights leaders.
Sen. Karen Peterson, D-Stanton, was awarded Legislator of the Year; she received a standing ovation from the crowd of more than 100 people gathered July 20 at Mariachi Restaurant on Rehoboth Avenue.
Peterson was one of 23 legislators who sponsored House Bill 75 – the Marriage Equality Act – in the legislative session that ended June 30. Gov. Jack Markell signed the bill May 7, the same day it passed the Senate 12-9.
“This award belongs to all of us,” Peterson said. She said equal marriage rights became especially important to her 3.5 years ago, when her partner of 24 years, Victoria Bandy, was diagnosed with ovarian cancer. “We had no legal rights,” Peterson said. “We had no say over what happened to the other.”
Delaware General Assembly legalized civil unions for same-sex couples in 2011. One year later, a bill was passed allowing same-sex couples in Delaware to marry.
“She is in remission,” Peterson said of Bandy. “And on top of that, we got to get married July 1,” she said.
Peterson thanked Rep. Mike Ramone, R-Middle Run Valley, who also attended the July 20 gathering. Ramone and Sen. Cathy Cloutier, R-Heatherbrooke, were the only Republicans who voted in favor of marriage equality.
“He really went up against it to stand with us,” Peterman said. “It’s great to be equal.”
Democratic U.S. Congressman John Carney, the event’s keynote speaker, said Stonewalls changed the Democratic Party. “The past 10 years seem like they’ve flown by,” he said. “For so many of you, this started a long time ago.”
Carney said the battle for equal rights started in 2001 with the introduction of House Bill 99, to outlaw discrimination based on sexual orientation. But a bill to prohibit sexual orientation discrimination did not pass until 2009.
Carney also noted the party’s recent achievements, including passage of the Marriage Equality Act and a bill to prohibit discrimination based on sexual identity. “Thank you for everything you’ve done, and let’s go to work for the next 10 years,” he said.
U.S. Rep. Jared Polis, D-Colorado, attended the gathering with Carney. “We just passed civil unions,” Polis said of his home state. “We’re fast on your heels and learning from your experience.”
Delaware Stonewall Democrats Founder and Treasurer Peter Schott was honored with the Pioneer of the Year award. Lewes resident Mitch Crane, former president of Delaware Stonewall Democrats, received the LGBT Rights Award.
Stonewall President Norm Spector, who acted as master of ceremonies, encouraged those at the event to attend meetings and contribute to the party. “Don’t think for one minute that our rights can’t be taken away,” he said. “We cannot become complacent.”
For more information on Delaware Stonewall Democrats, go to delawarestonewall.org.