The Delaware Senate voted 13-6 on Thursday to approve a civil unions bill that would provide same-sex couples with all of the rights and benefits of marriage under state law.
LGBT activists were optimistic that the Delaware House of Representatives would approve the bill next week, and the state’s governor, Democrat Jack A. Markell, has said he plans to sign the bill.
“We are delighted that not only did the civil unions bill get passed by the Senate but that it got passed by a two-to-one margin,” said Lisa Goodman, president of Equality Delaware, a state LGBT group coordinating lobbying efforts for the bill.
“We think that says a lot about what the citizens of Delaware want to see, that the citizens of Delaware are two-to-one in favor of civil unions,” she said.
Joe Solmonese, president of the Human Rights Campaign, called on the Delaware House to quickly pass the bill and send it to the governor for signing.
“Today we applaud the Delaware Senate for valuing all Delaware families,” Solmonese said.
A public opinion poll commissioned by Equality Delaware and conducted in March by the survey research firm Lake Research Partners found that 62 percent of voters favor allowing same-sex couples to form legalized civil unions, with 31 percent opposing such a law. Seven percent of the voters polled were undecided. The poll had a margin of error of plus or minus 3.8 percent.
“We feel very optimistic about getting the bill through the House,” Goodman said. “We have all three of the Democratic leaders in the House on the bill as sponsors and we’ve been working very hard with House members.”
Democrats hold a 26 to 15 majority in the 41-member Delaware House of Representatives.
A House hearing on the bill was expected to be held April 13, with the committee expected to approve the bill the same day. Goodman said a debate and vote on the bill in the full House was expected to take place April 14.
Similar to civil unions laws in other states, the Delaware measure, Senate Bill 30, would provide same-sex couples with all of the rights, benefits and obligations of marriage under state law but would not provide any federal rights or benefits related to marriage.
The Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), which Congress passed in 1996 and President Bill Clinton signed, bars same-sex couples from receiving federal marriage-related rights or benefits.
If the Delaware civil unions measure is approved by the legislature and signed by the governor, Delaware would become the eighth state to provide marriage-related rights and benefits to same-sex couples – either through either civil unions or comprehensive domestic partnership laws.
Two of the other states – Illinois and Hawaii – approved such laws earlier this year. The Illinois law is scheduled to take effect in June and the Hawaii law goes into effect in January 2012.