Delaware Passes Civil Unions Bill
BY Julie Bolcer
April 14 2011 8:55 AM ET
Delaware took a significant step toward equality Thursday when the house of representatives voted to legalize civil unions for same-sex couples. The proposal passed the senate last week, and Gov. Jack Markell intends to sign the bill.
Cheers erupted shortly after 7 p.m. when, in a bipartisan 26 to 15 vote, the Democratic-controlled chamber approved the proposal, which would provide same-sex couples in civil unions with the same rights and responsibilities as married couples, to the extent possible. Comparable same-sex unions, including marriages from other jurisdictions, would be recognized as civil unions in Delaware.
"There are a lot of happy people here," said Equality Delaware president Lisa Goodman in a message to The Advocate. "We made Delaware a fairer and better place for same-sex couples and all families today."
The Delaware Civil Unions and Equality Act of 2011, also known as Senate Bill 30, was sponsored by Sen. David Sokola and Rep. Melanie George. Equality Delaware, a statewide advocacy group formed last year, spearheaded the push for the measure.
“Today, we celebrate a victory for all Delaware families who will have the tools to protect themselves in good times and in bad," said Human Rights Campaign president Joe Solmonese in a statement. "We look forward to Governor Markell signing this bill into law and thank Senator Sokola and Representative George for their leadership on this bill, and Equality Delaware for their tireless dedication."
Delaware, the second smallest U.S. state in area, with a population of 900,000, sits in the densely populated Mid-Atlantic region, where civil unions are available in neighboring New Jersey and advocates hope to pass marriage equality in New York this year. A corporate haven, Delaware also is home to Vice President Joseph Biden.
The office of the vice president did not respond to a request for comment on the vote.
The historic vote followed more than two hours of debate during which house members defeated nine amendments to the bill, including proposals to open civil unions to opposite-sex couples and to require a statewide referendum before the civil unions law could be implemented, Representative George called the referendum proposal “an unlawful and unconstitutional delegation of legislative authority.”
Another defeated amendment, offered by an attorney for the antigay Alliance Defense Fund, would have allowed businesses, clergy members, and churches to refuse to facilitate any unions and related events, such as receptions, that conflicted with their religious beliefs.
Last month polling results released by Equality Delaware showed that 62% of voters supported civil unions. Opponents led by the Delaware Family Policy Council charged that the measure would open the door to marriage equality in the state.
Doug Napier, an Alliance Defense Fund attorney, repeated that claim in his testimony on the floor.
“It is riddled with all sorts of unintended consequences,” he said, while vowing to challenge the law in court. “Don’t be deceived. This bill is a precursor to same-sex marriage.”
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