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Delaware Senate Approves Civil Union Legislation; House to Consider the Bill Next Week

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For those advocating for the legal recognition of gay and lesbian relationships in Delaware, Thursday provided much reason to be optimistic about the future. In a 13-6 vote, the Delaware Senate approved legislation that would allow gay and lesbian couples to obtain a civil union, effectively granting them all the rights, benefits and obligations applicable to married spouses under Delaware law. The bill now heads to the House, where it is expected to be considered next Wednesday.

Lisa Goodman is the president of Equality Delaware, the advocacy organization that has spearheaded the civil union bill. Describing herself as "thrilled" about Thursday's outcome, Goodman is cautiously optimistic about what will happen in the House next week. Many expect the House to pass the bill quickly, perhaps as early as Thursday. Though she is also confident, Goodman told The Associated Press that Equality Delaware was "not taking anything for granted."

There is wide support for civil union legislation in Delaware. A poll released last month by Equality Delaware found that 62% of state voters support civil unions for gay and lesbian couples. Gov. Jack Markell has also pledged to sign the legislation once it reaches his desk.

Sen. David Sokola (D-Newark), the bill's chief sponsor in the senate, spoke in front of a standing-room only crowd during yesterday's debate. The debate lasted nearly three hours and had a largely civil tone. Noting the discriminatory obstacles faced by loving and committed gay and lesbian couples, Sen. Sokola said, "We have members of our community who work hard, pay taxes, contribute to our state in so many ways, who do not get society supported benefits that the rest of us take for granted."

Two amendments were defeated prior to the bill's approval on Thursday. Both were proposed by Sen. Robert Venables (D-Laurel), one of only two Democrats to vote against the measure. One amendment would have allowed civil unions for gay and lesbian couples, as well as straight couples. Another would have required that a majority of Delaware residents approve civil unions in a statewide referendum before the law could take effect.

Currently five states (Connecticut, Iowa, Massachusetts, New Hampshire and Vermont) and Washington, D.C., offer legal marriage for gay and lesbian couples. Five others (California, Nevada, New Jersey, Oregon and Washington) provide gay and lesbian couples with access to many of the state-level benefits and responsibilities of marriage, through either civil unions or domestic partnerships.  Earlier this year, the governors of Illinois & Hawaii signed civil union bills into law, and couples there will be able to apply for civil union licenses on June 1, 2011 and January 1, 2012, respectively.

GLAAD applauds the Delaware Senate for approving civil union legislation, and we are hopeful that the House will soon do the same. How you can help: If you or a loved one live in Delaware, please contact your state representative to let them know that you support the civil union bill. If you need help finding your representative's contact information, please click here.

In the meantime, we urge the media to report on the significance of the civil union bill and what this legislation will mean for the loving and committed gay and lesbian couples who want to take care of and be responsible for each other.