April 23, 2013 at 5:59 pm EDT | by Michael K. Lavers
Delaware House approves same-sex marriage bill

Melanie George Smith, Delaware, gay news, Washington Blade

State Rep. Melanie George Smith (D-Bear) sponsored Delaware’s civil unions bill in the state House of Representatives. (Photo courtesy of Delaware House Majority Caucus.)

The Delaware House of Representatives on Tuesday approved a bill that would allow same-sex marriage in the First State.

The 23-18 vote took place less than a week after the House Administrative Committee advanced House Bill 75 to the full chamber.

State Rep. Melanie George Smith (D-Bear,) who formally introduced the measure on April 11, stressed before the vote the bill protects religious freedom.

“The bill allows freedom for churches that want to perform same-sex marriage and churches that don’t,” she said.

Equality Delaware Foundation President Mark Purpura told state Rep. Steve Smyk (R-Milton) during his testimony in support of HB 75 that extending marriage rights to same-sex couples in Delaware is about “equal status.”

“It’s about equal treatment under the law,” Purpura said. “Marriage is the ultimate commitment that two people can make to each other.”

Nicole Theis of the Delaware Family Policy Council reiterated during her testimony in opposition to HB 75 that she feels the state’s civil unions law affords same-sex couples the same benefits that heterosexual couples receive through marriage. State Rep. Tim Dukes, who is a pastor at the Central Worship Center in Laurel in Sussex County, agreed.

“The state offers the most extensive civil unions law in the country,” he said before the vote. “The truth is it hasn’t been taken advantage of.”

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

Governor Jack Markell; Attorney General Beau Biden; U.S. Sens. Chris Coons and Tom Carper; Congressman John Carney; New Castle County Executive Tom Gordon; Wilmington City Council President Theo Gregory; Rev. Donald Morton of the Black Clergy Consortium of Delaware and John Fluharty, the gay executive director of the Delaware Republican Party, are among those who support nuptials for gays and lesbians in the First State.

“This is a huge step forward for equality in Delaware,” Biden said in a statement. “Everyone is equal under the law, and all Delawareans should be free to marry the person they love.”

The bill now goes to the state Senate.

Michael K. Lavers is the international news editor of the Washington Blade. Follow Michael

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