February 6, 2013 | by Michael K. Lavers
Del. advocates optimistic ahead of marriage debate
Jack Markell, gay news, Washington Blade

Delaware Gov. Jack Markell (Photo by Molly Keresztury via Wikimedia)

Marriage equality advocates in Delaware continue to organize in advance of the expected introduction of a bill later this year that would allow gays and lesbians to tie the knot in the First State.

More than 150 people attended an Equality Delaware-sponsored town hall meeting in Wilmington on Jan. 30 at which U.S. Sen. Chris Coons spoke. A second gathering that drew nearly the same amount of people took place at Camp Rehoboth in Rehoboth Beach on Jan. 31.

Equality Delaware President Lisa Goodman told the Washington Blade her group continues to work with the Human Rights Campaign, Freedom to Marry, the Gill Foundation, the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force and other national and local organizations on the issue.

The organization is holding weekly volunteer events, trainings and phone banks across the state to garner further support for marriage rights for same-sex couples. Goodman said Equality Delaware also continues to engage people of faith and communities of color on the issue.

“We are doing a very serious and robust faith outreach,” she told the Blade. “We had wonderful faith support for the civil union bill, and we are very confident that we will have an even broader-based faith support for the marriage effort. We also believe that we will have even broader support of people of color and across the board.”

Gov. Jack Markell, who signed Delaware’s civil unions bill into law in 2011, suggested to the Huffington Post last August that state lawmakers could debate a same-sex marriage bill during the 2013 legislative session that ends on June 30. He referenced the looming debate in his second inaugural speech last month.

“We will advance the cause of liberty, equality and dignity in our time,” Markell said. “Our state will be a welcoming place to live, to love and to raise families for all who choose to call Delaware home.”

Goodman did not provide a specific timeline in which she feels lawmakers would consider the issue, but stressed “we expect it to happen later this session.” She further noted House Speaker Pete Schwartzkopf (D-Rehoboth Beach) and Senate President Pro Tempore Patricia Blevins (D-Elsmere) are among the lawmakers and other state officials who support marriage rights for same-sex couples.

“Obviously given the events of this last election cycle, there is a lot of momentum,” Goodman told the Blade.

Neighboring Maryland is among the nine states and D.C. that allow same-sex marriage.

An Illinois Senate committee on Tuesday approved a bill that would allow gays and lesbians to the knot, while the Rhode Island House of Representatives last month overwhelmingly approved a same-sex marriage measure.

Hawaii lawmakers on Jan. 24 introduced two proposals that would extend nuptials to gays and lesbians in the Aloha State. New Jersey legislators in the coming weeks are expected to once again debate the issue after Gov. Chris Christie last February vetoed a same-sex marriage bill they approved.

“Every state that passes a marriage equality bill I think starts to convince other legislators that, wow, it’s OK for us to do it too,” Andy Staton, a gay Rehoboth Beach Realtor who unsuccessfully ran for the state Senate last year, told the Blade. “Legislators are very influenced by their constituency. And if the constituency is telling them not to do it, then they’re not going to do it, which is why it’s important for people to be vocal.”

President Obama spoke out in support of the same-sex marriage referenda that passed last November in Maryland, Maine and Washington. The White House has also urged Illinois and Rhode Island lawmakers to support measures to allow nuptials for gays and lesbians in their respective states.

Goodman said she expects Obama and Vice President Biden to do the same in Delaware.

“We certainly would welcome his support and have no reason to think that he will not be supportive and publicly so, as will our vice president, Joe Biden, who of course all of Delaware is incredibly proud of,” she said.

Michael K. Lavers has been a staff writer for the Washington Blade since May 2012. The passage of Maryland's same-sex marriage law, the HIV/AIDS epidemic, the burgeoning LGBT rights movement in Latin America and the consecration of gay New Hampshire Bishop V. Gene Robinson are among the many stories he has covered since his career began in 2002. Follow Michael

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