April 14, 2011 | by Lou Chibbaro Jr.
Local news in brief: April 15

Del. Senate passes civil unions bill

The Delaware Senate voted 13-6 late last week 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; a vote was expected this week. 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.

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.

Stein Club elects new president

The Gertrude Stein Democratic Club, the city’s largest LGBT political group, Monday night elected local attorney and lesbian activist Lateefah Williams as its new president.

Williams replaces Jeffrey Richardson, who resigned as president after being appointed by Mayor Vincent Gray as director of the Mayor’s Office of GLBT Affairs.

She becomes the first African-American woman to hold the post of Stein Club president since the club’s founding nearly 35 years ago.

Williams also serves as national committeewoman for the D.C. Young Democrats and is a member of the D.C. Democratic State Committee and the Metropolitan Women’s Democratic Club.

Career wise, Williams is political and legislative director for Local 689 of the Amalgamated Transit Union. She previously worked as a policy analyst for the think tank and government watchdog group OMB Watch and as an attorney in private practice for local D.C. area law firms. She holds a law degree from Georgetown University Law School and is a member of the bar in D.C. and Maryland.

“It is truly an honor to preside over an organization with such a storied history and to follow in the footsteps of the many great club presidents who have preceded me,” she said. “I am truly committed to service and l look forward to working with our members and the community at large to continue to advance LGBT equality and Democratic ideals in the District of Columbia.”

Lou Chibbaro Jr. has reported on the LGBT civil rights movement and the LGBT community for more than 30 years, beginning as a freelance writer and later as a staff reporter and currently as Senior News Reporter for the Washington Blade. He has chronicled LGBT-related developments as they have touched on a wide range of social, religious, and governmental institutions, including the White House, Congress, the U.S. Supreme Court, the military, local and national law enforcement agencies and the Catholic Church. Chibbaro has reported on LGBT issues and LGBT participation in local and national elections since 1976. He has covered the AIDS epidemic since it first surfaced in the early 1980s. Follow Lou

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