Here are a couple of short videos I took last week of the grounds here around Casa Tipton-Kelly (our home) here in Sussex County, Delaware. Even though all five of our state legislators voted against marriage equality for same sex couples, we gay folk here in Sussex County live in perhaps one of the most open minded and accepting communities in the United States. Even though Sussex County Delaware had the fourth largest gay population of couples, we can now get married in spite of all five of our state legislators who continue to myopically vote against us for full equality.
I meant for this blog posting to be all light and airy to offset my mean-spirited previous blog posting about why I don't watch "American Idol" anymore, but I just drifted into bringing to everyone's attention that the battle isn't totally won. Hopefully the day will come when our local politicians recognize and affirm that they represent ALL of their constituents, including the LGBT community.
Last week I wrote a letter to our local newspaper bringing to everyone's attention that both of my elected representatives at the Delaware State legislature didn't even have the common courtesy to answer or even acknowledge two hand written letters that I sent to them asking for their support of the Marriage Equality bill in Delaware. I don't have a big problem with them disagreeing with me (actually I do) but at least they could acknowledge my letters. To not do so only confirms my concern that they still view me as "less than." I even invited both of them to our upcoming wedding. We need two witnesses. This is their opportunity to redeem themselves. Think they will take the offer?
Last July on a late Saturday afternoon I heard my doorbell ring. I answered the door and there stood an earnest and pleasant looking young man. He introduced himself as Stephen Smyk and said he was a former state trooper and he was campaigning for my district’s seat in the Delaware House of Representatives. He said he was the candidate representing “family values” and asked for my support in the upcoming election. Of course, I as a gay man recognized this red flag statement of “family values” as “I am the candidate of the straight people who will keep ‘the gays’ from taking over.” I stated to Mr. Smyk “I’m gay, does that include me?” Mr. Smyk’s smile disappeared and he was momentarily was thrown off his script. He probably thought I was straight because I live in a predominately straight development just outside Lewes. Mr. Smyk then did his best Jackie Gleason imitation of “Hum ah hum ah humm hummm…….” I forget the exact words he used in his response to my question but I do remember I felt sorry for him because I obviously threw him off balance during his campaign swing through what he obviously thought was a 100% straight neighborhood.
Last month Governor Markell introduced HB75 for marriage equality in the State of Delaware. I was asked to testify in favor of marriage equality. My partner Bill Kelly and I have been together since July 3rd, 1964 This July we will celebrate 49 years together. Like Mr. Smyk, both Bill and I are veterans. I am a veteran of the U.S. Army (three years) and Bill is also a veteran of the U.S. Army (over four years) and the U.S. Air Force (another four years).
I was also asked to write letters to both my representatives, Mr. Smyk and Mr. Lopez (Senator Ernie Lopez who I haven’t met). I was asked to hand write the letters because I was told a hand written letter would be more effective in receiving a response. I wrote a total of two letters to both Representative Smyk and Senator Lopez.
Much to my surprise and disappointment, neither Mr. Smyk or Mr. Lopez considered me, as a gay man and a veteran, worthy of a response to any my personal letters to them requesting that they support HB75.
Representative Smyk and Senator Lopez represent the largest concentration of gay and lesbian couples in the state of Delaware. That both of them voted against the marriage equality bill (HB75) says a lot about their concern and commitment to a significant part of their electorate. And that both of my elected representatives ignored my letters also tells me that they do not consider me worthy of a response. I’ve heard the excuses that they were “overwhelmed.” I don’t buy it. I have always received a response from any Delaware state elected official that I have written too. Always. I have always received responses from my elected representatives when I lived in Pennsylvania even though they were Republican and disagreed with me. They always gave me the respect that I was due as their constituent.
I urge my gay and straight fellow citizens who believe all citizens if Delaware should have the ability to get married and thus has the dignity and protections accorded to other Americans to remember that Representative Smyk and Senator Lopez voted against equality the next time they are at the ballot box. To remember that Representative Smyk and Senator Lopez do not value all of their constituents equally. To remember that both of these elected representatives, by their “no” vote for marriage equality, view some of their constituents as “less than.”
Vote for a representative and senator who values ALL families. Vote for a representative and senator who at least have the common courtesy to respond to a constituent’s handwritten letter, even if they do disagree with that constituent.
I’ve been on this earth for 71 years. For too many of those years I have been disrespected, humiliated, discriminated against and been threatened with physical violence just because I chose to live my life as an openly gay man. I moved to Delaware for my retirement in November of 2006 because of its gay friendly reputation. I did not want to live out my retirement years in a community where I was viewed and treated “less than.” Bill and I have found Delaware and our predominately straight neighborhood friendly and accepting of us regardless of whether we were gay or not. Thus was a rude awakening and very disappointing to discover that both of our elected officials in the Delaware state government do not represent us, and our “family values”.
Bill and I have been in a loving and committed relationship for almost 49 years. We will be married on our 49th anniversary this July 3rd in our back yard. And hear this Representative Smyk and Senator Lopez, our family values are just a legitimate as yours. It’s not too late to accord us the proper respect to which we are due by acknowledging our existence. I invite both of you to our wedding. We need two witnesses.