House Bill 75 Senate Vote:
Margaret Rose Henry
F. Gary Simpson
After three hours of debate on the Senate floor, cheers and applause arose from the gallery as House Bill 75 passed by a 12 to 9 vote. Living up to the promise that if the bill passed he would sign it, Gov. Jack Markell signed the bill into law less than an hour after the vote.
"I know that many of you here today and many up and down are state have waited years, in fact decades for this day to come," Markell said. "You may be wondering why we're doing this bill signing right now instead of a few days or a couple weeks from now and the reason is simple - I don't intend to make any of you wait one moment longer."
Before making it to the Senate, The bill previously passed the Delaware House of Representatives by a vote of 23 to 18.
Markell's signature made Delaware the 11thstate to legalize same-sex marriage.
"This is a clear signal to people across the country that Delaware is a welcome place where people are free to love whomever they choose to love," Markell said.
House Bill 75 has become law, but did not become so without a fight. The bill was hotly debated on the Senate floor by senators, members of the clergy and legal experts.
Anthony Wallace, pastor of Crossroads Christian Church in Dover was one of many who voiced his disagreement with the bill.
"A lot of people have cast this legislation in the same framework of the historic civil rights movement of the 1950s and 1960s and quite frankly I think that's a front," Wallace said. "I think it's used to trigger responses mainly of emotion. I also think that comparisons made between people who are of some privilege, in comparison to an entire race of people, an entire generation of people who did not even see basic human necessities, I think is close to an atrocity."
In his testimony Father Leonard Klein of the Catholic Diocese of Wilmington expressed the concern that marriage equality could have unintended consequences and might open the door for polygamists or those in open marriages.
"If marriage does not require two genders what arguments will you impose when advocates of polyamory or polygamy demand the right to marry whomever they choose, whomever they love?" he asked. "When you remove male and female from the definition of marriage all bets are off."
Jordan Lorence, senior counsel for the Alliance Defending Freedom had concerns about the potential legal ramifications of the bill.
"This state bans marital status discrimination. By passing this bill you will be changing the definition of marital status. People who don't support this bill will be branded as bigots. If this is meant as a culture changing bill, those who believe in traditional marriage, defined as only one man and one woman, can only express that opinion with in four walls and not affect anybody else. If it goes anywhere else there are public accommodations laws already set that would come against them."
At the last moment, an attempt was made by Sen. Gerald Hocker (R-Oceanview) to table the bill, but the motion failed by the same margin that would later send the bill into the governor's hands.
Those who supported the bill spoke to the importance of equality. Mark Purpura, executive director of Equality Delaware, offered an explanation as to why civil unions will not suffice and why marriage equality is necessary.
"If we keep civil unions there is no chance that those couples in civil unions will ever have access to protections and benefits under federal law," Purpura said. "I think we're just looking for everyone to be treated equally under the law. We're looking for our state not to create a separate but unequal status based solely on sexual orientation."
He went on to point out that under the law no church official would be forced to perform marriage ceremonies that they did not agree with. However, a clerk of the peace or their deputy would be required to perform ceremonies, regardless of personal feeling, because they are civil servants and ran for election knowing the requirements of their jobs.
Sen. Karen Peterson (D-Stanton) added a personal touch to the debate when she publically came out for the first time.
"My partner Vicky and I have been together for 24 years," she said. "Neither of us chose to be gay any more than heterosexual people choose to be straight. We are what God made us. We don't need to be fixed we're not broken. We, like all other Americans, should have to right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness and if my happiness somehow demeans or diminishes your marriage, then you need to work on your marriage. We are not seeking to redefine marriage. We are seeking to expand the definition of marriage."
For many couples in Delaware the signing of House Bill 75 into law meant the realization of lifelong dreams.
"I'm so ecstatic. This means that I can marry my girlfriend," said Callie Eros as she cried tears of joy in the Legislative Hall lobby.
"I was in shock. I didn't think it would pass," said Tiffany Savage. "I was excited, light-headed, it feels like a weight has been lifted off my chest. Now I'll have an equal opportunity and be able to be recognized."
Those who opposed the bill were less enthusiastic about the day's outcome.
"I wasn't surprised that it passed because of the overwhelming attitudes towards it," said Hendrix Dickens. "I disagreed with it. My stance is that I believe it took a mother and a father to produce a child, it should take a mother and a father to raise a child."
Under the provisions of the new law, same-sex couples can now be legally married and previously performed civil unions will be converted into marriages, effective July 1.