Cheers and applause erupted in the House of Representatives chamber Thursday afternoon after lawmakers approved legislation creating civil unions for same-sex couples in Delaware, paving the way for the bill to be signed into law by a governor who also supports the measure.
Cheers and applause erupted in the House of Representatives chamber this afternoon after lawmakers approved legislation creating civil unions for same-sex couples in Delaware, paving the way for the bill to be signed into law by a governor who also supports the measure.
Senate Bill 30, passed by that chamber last week, creates a civil union designation that entitles same-sex couples to the same rights, benefits and privileges under state law enjoyed by opposite-sex married couples.
When the law takes effect at 10 a.m. Jan. 1, 2012, Delaware will join seven states and Washington, D.C., in recognizing civil unions. Gov. Jack Markell’s staff said he will host a signing ceremony for SB 30 next month.
Lead House sponsor Rep. Melanie George, D-Bear, called the bill’s passage a civil rights milestone.
“The principle of equality and justice for everyone is the most important thing, and we’re going to fight for it,” she said.
The legislation passed with a vote of 26-15. Two Republican lawmakers voted yes on the bill: Rep. Nick Manolakos, R-Limestone Hills, and Rep. Mike Ramone, R-Middle Run Valley. Two Democrats voted no: Rep. John Atkins, D-Millsboro, and Rep. Bill Carson, D-Smyrna.
After the vote, Markell echoed a statement he made when the bill was introduced last month.
“When it came to this legislation, it was clear that it was about rights, it was about opportunity and it was about time,” he said in an emailed statement. “It makes clear that if you’ve committed yourself to someone, and you’ve made that pledge to spend your life together in partnership, when life or death decisions come, we will respect your right to make those decisions together.”
Before SB 30 passed, proponents successfully beat back nine amendments introduced by lawmakers who did not support the bill.
Two of the amendments replicated language that failed to gain favor in the Senate. One called for a statewide referendum on the issue and the other sought to make civil unions available to opposite-sex and same-sex couples alike.
Other amendments authored by Republicans sought to state explicitly that the same-sex unions law would not in any way affect the current legal definition of marriage as between a man and a woman.
Though language in SB 30 preserves the designation of marriage for opposite-sex couples only, critics said the legislation is meant to be a stepping stone to legalizing marriage for gay and lesbian couples in the future, either by subsequent legislation or via judicial decree.