The Delaware House of Representatives gave final approval Thursday evening to a civil unions bill that will provide same-sex couples with all of the rights and benefits of marriage under state law.
The House voted 26-15 in favor of the measure. The Delaware Senate voted 13-6 to approve the bill on April 7, and the state’s governor, Democrat Jack A. Markell, has said he plans to sign it
“Today, we celebrate a victory for all Delaware families who will have the tools to protect themselves in good times and in bad,” said HRC President Joe Solmonese. “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.”
The bill, SB 30, cleared a key hurdle on Wednesday when the House Administration Committee voted 4-1 to approve it and send it to the House floor, with House Republican leader Gregory Lavelle voting for it.
A House debate and vote on the bill followed a discussion and separate votes on multiple amendments that opponents introduced. One of the amendments announced earlier in the day called for putting the bill on hold until voters decide whether to approve or reject it in a referendum. The amendments failed.
Approval of any of the amendments in the House would have required the bill to go back to the Senate, which approved it without amendment.
“The hurdles in the way of victory, if any, are the amendments,” said Mitch Crane, president of the Barbara Gittings Delaware Stonewall Democrats, an LGBT advocacy group.
The bill creates “the recognized legal relationship of civil unions” for same-sex couples and provides them with “all of the same rights, benefits, protections and responsibilities as married persons under Delaware law.”
The bill states that it is not the intention of the legislature “to revise the definition or eligibility requirements of marriage under Delaware law or to require any religious institution to perform solemnizations of civil unions.”
Similar to civil unions bills approved in other states, the Delaware bill would not provide same-sex couples with any federal rights or benefits associated with marriage. The Defense of Marriage Act, which Congress passed and President Bill Clinton signed in 1996, bars same-sex couples from receiving federal marriage-related rights or benefits.
Lisa Goodman, president of the board of Equality Delaware, a state LGBT group coordinating lobbying efforts for the bill, said the group and other LGBT organizations and advocates determined they didn’t have the political support in the state to pass a same-sex marriage bill.
Goodman, an attorney in private practice, said the civil unions law would provide same-sex couples and their families, including children, with crucial legal protections that they don’t currently have.
The vote by the House committee to approve the bill on Wednesday followed a public hearing the same day that lasted nearly three hours and included testimony from the bill’s supporters and opponents. Among those testifying were representatives of churches and religious organizations on both sides of the issue.
“Opposing testimony was as hateful, in many cases, as we have seen,” according to Crane of the Stonewall Democrats.
Crane noted that some of the opponents cited biblical passages, including the Old Testament verse of Leviticus, which has long been used to condemn homosexuality.
Other religious representatives, including a rabbi from a conservative Jewish congregation, testified in support of the bill, saying opponents were misinterpreting biblical passages, according to Crane.
Peter Schott, the Stonewall Democrats vice president for political action, said LGBT activists observed the House debate from the visitors’ gallery after many of them contacted their representatives to urge them to support the bill.
Delaware becomes the eighth state to provide marriage-related rights and benefits to same-sex couples – either through civil unions or comprehensive domestic partnership laws – if the legislature gives final approval of the bill.