“It’s also about having a sense of what’s in the best interest of our state,” he said as he discussed the impact he said nuptials for gays and lesbians would have on Delaware’s economy. “Businesses want to hire the very best people. They don’t care about their race. They don’t care about their gender. They don’t care about their sexual orientation. They just want to get great people. We want to have the kind of welcoming environment where talented people no matter their background feel welcome.”
Markell, who signed Delaware’s civil unions bill into law in 2011, spoke with the Blade a day after he and other elected officials attended a Wilmington press conference at which state Rep. Melanie George Smith (D-Bear) formally introduced the same-sex marriage proposal.
None of House Bill 75’s 22 co-sponsors in both legislative chambers are Republican.
The governor told the Blade that former Republican National Committee Chair Ken Mehlman expressed a “willingness to make some phone calls he thought would be helpful” when they met in New York City after the civil unions law took effect in January 2012.
“I’m sure we’ll tap into a lot of people who are interested in helping,” Markell said.
He added he feels marriage rights for same-sex couples should not be a partisan issue. The governor also responded to reports the executive committee of the Sussex County Republican Committee on Monday approved a non-binding resolution to remove John Fluharty, the state GOP’s gay executive director, over his support of same-sex marriage.
“It’s just one more reason that the Republicans really need to think through how they’re going to win elections in the future,” Markell said. “People are looking for political parties that are open and inclusive and that have big tents. I know a lot of Republicans who don’t share the view of some of those who wanted to push him out.”
Neighboring Maryland is among the nine states and D.C. in which same-sex couples can legally marry.
Lawmakers in Rhode Island and Illinois are expected to vote on proposals in the coming weeks that would extend marriage rights to gays and lesbians in their respective states.
Markell said he spoke earlier this year with Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley about same-sex marriage, although he described the issue as “state-by-state.” He applauded Equality Delaware for its efforts leading up to HB 75’s introduction.
“The most important thing we have is a very strong group of advocates,” Markell said. “They [Equality Delaware] have done just an excellent job and I think that will be the single most important factor in getting something done here.”
A Global Strategy Group poll that Equality Delaware commissioned in February shows 54 percent of Delawareans support same-sex marriage. An ABC News/Washington Post survey released last month indicates 58 percent of Americans back nuptials for gays and lesbians.
“We’re a reflection of the changing mood nationally around this issue,” Markell told the Blade in response to a question about how he feels Delaware factors into the same-sex marriage movement that continues to gain momentum. “Four years ago in Delaware it was legal to discriminate on the basis of sexual orientation, and we have a potential of going in four years from that to marriage equality. That is a major step forward.”