Delaware Senate Passes Civil Unions Bill

Delaware Senate Passes Civil Unions Bill

The Delaware senate passed a measure Thursday afternoon that
would allow same-sex couples to enter into civil unions. The bill now
heads to the house for approval.

According to the Associated Press, the bill passed by a 13 to 6 vote.

“Lawmakers defeated two last-minute amendments to the legislation offered by Laurel Democrat Robert Venables,” reports the AP. “One would have allowed civil unions for heterosexual couples as well as homosexuals. The other would have required that a majority of Delaware residents approve civil unions in a statewide referendum before they could take effect.”

The measure, introduced by Sen. David Sokola and Rep. Melanie George, would allow civil unions only for same-sex couples in Delaware. Similar legal unions for same-sex couples from other jurisdictions, such as civil unions and marriages, would be recognized as civil unions in Delaware.

Describing her reaction to the senate vote as “thrilled,” Equality Delaware president Lisa Goodman expressed confidence about the prospects for the bill in the house. The legislative session in Delaware ends on June 30.

“We are expecting to be heard in a timely fashion in the house,” said Goodman in a telephone interview with The Advocate. “We’re not expecting to be heard in June.”

The civil unions legislation represents the first high-profile initiative of Equality Delaware, a statewide advocacy group formed last year. Members of the group include advocates who helped lead the successful push for an antidiscrimination bill in the state in 2009.

“We have overwhelming support for civil unions,” said Goodman. “We have families who need protections right now. We decided that our highest goal was to get them these protections.”

A poll released by Equality Delaware last month showed that 62% of state voters support civil unions for same-sex couples. Gov. Jack Markell has pledged to sign the legislation.

The senate debate, which took a largely civil tone, lasted nearly three hours in front of a standing-room only crowd in Dover. It followed a Defend Marriage Day on Wednesday led by the antigay Delaware Family Policy Council and other civil unions opponents, who argue that the measure would open the door to marriage equality in the state.

According to the Human Rights Campaign, which issued a news release applauding the senate vote, “Currently, five states have laws providing an expansive form of state-level relationship recognition for gay and lesbian couples, without offering marriage. California, Nevada, New Jersey, Oregon, and Washington provide same-sex couples with access to almost of all the state level benefits and responsibilities of marriage, through either civil unions or domestic partnerships. Earlier this year, the governors of Hawaii and Illinois signed into law civil unions bills. Couples in Illinois can begin applying for civil union licenses on June 1, 2011 and in Hawaii couples can begin applying on Jan. 1, 2012.”

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