“Today is a good day to be a Delawarean,” she said during a press conference at Freedom Plaza in downtown Wilmington. “Today we’re introducing legislation that will respect and recognize with equal dignity all couples who are in a loving and committed relationship.”
Smith, who sponsored the state’s civil unions bill in the House, spoke about her own marriage to her husband. The New Castle County Democrat also referenced Delawareans who are in the military as she spoke in support of the same-sex marriage measure.
“We stand here today to say that we’re here to protect their freedoms also, their freedom to marry the person they love and every Delawarean’s freedom to do so,” Smith said.
Governor Jack Markell, Lt. Gov. Matt Denn, Attorney General Beau Biden, New Castle County Executive Tom Gordon, Wilmington City Council President Theo Gregory, representatives of U.S. Sens. Chris Coons and Tom Carper and Congressman John Carney and Rev. Donald Morton of the Black Clergy Consortium of Delaware were among the more than 100 people who attended the press conference.
“The marriage equality bill filed today will allow loving and committed same-sex couples the freedom to marry the person they love just like the rest of us,” Senate President Pro Tempore Patricia Blevins (D-Elsmere) said. “We say to gay and lesbian couples that their love and their families are worthy of the same dignity and respect as all of our families.”
House Speaker Pete Schwartzkopf (D-Rehoboth Beach) specifically thanked HB 75’s 22 co-sponsors in both legislative chambers by name.
“You will be able to tell your children and your grandchildren that you stood firm and voted on the right side of history in our state,” he said.
Denn echoed Schwartzkopf.
“As long as same-sex couples in Delaware have to explain to their children why their relationship is called something else, why the law treats it as something less than the relationship that their friends’ parents have, than the message that we are sending these kids is that their parents’ relationship is less worthy,” he said, noting he attended Equality Delaware President Lisa Goodman and her partner’s civil union ceremony on the day the state’s civil unions law took effect in Jan. 2012. “This bill ensure that same-sex couples can truthfully talk to their kids about their families the same way that married couples to now.”
Neighboring Maryland is among the nine states and D.C. in which gays and lesbians can legally marry.
Aside from Delaware, lawmakers in Rhode Island and Illinois are expected to vote on proposals that would extend marriage rights to same-sex couples in their respective states.
Majority of Del. voters support same-sex marriage
A Global Strategy Group poll that Equality Delaware commissioned in February shows 54 percent of Delawareans back nuptials for gays and lesbians, compared to 37 percent of respondents who oppose them. A survey that ABC News and the Washington Post released last month indicates 58 percent of Americans now support same-sex marriage.
Biden said during the press conference that his father, Vice President Biden, and President Obama “stand with us here today.”
Markell cited the U.S. Supreme Court cases that challenge the constitutionality of the Defense of Marriage Act and California’s Proposition 8 as he urged lawmakers to support his state’s same-sex marriage bill.
“If DOMA is struck down as many expect, our failure to pass marriage equality here in Delaware will mean that we — not anybody else — will be responsible for the perpetuation of federal discrimination against committed same-sex couples in Delaware,” Markell said.
The Delaware Family Policy Council, which opposes nuptials for gays and lesbians, accused Goodman and other advocates of lying about their intentions to seek same-sex marriage in the state after lawmakers in 2011 approved the civil unions bill that Markell signed into law.
Goodman and other same-sex marriage advocates remain optimistic HB 75 will pass.
“Today is a historic day in Delaware,” Goodman said. “With the filing of this civil marriage equality bill, Delaware begins the process of becoming a marriage equality state.”
Rehoboth Beach resident Bob Hoffer, who has been with his partner Max Dick for 32 years, agreed.
“We’re very optimistic that this is going to pass,” he told the Washington Blade after the press conference. “Our country is moving forward in a more positive way.”
The House Administration Committee is scheduled to hold a hearing on HB 75 in Dover on April 17.