On Thursday, the Delaware House of Representatives approved legislation (25-16) that would allow gay and lesbian couples to obtain a civil union, effectively granting them all the benefits and obligations applicable to married spouses under Delaware law. Thursday's House vote comes just one week after the Delaware Senate also approved civil union legislation. The bill now heads to the desk of Gov. Jack Markell, who looks forward to signing the measure into law.
With Gov. Markell's signature, the bill will take effect on January 1, 2012. Currently five states (California, Nevada, New Jersey, Oregon and Washington) provide loving and committed gay and lesbian couples with access to many of the state-level benefits and responsibilities of marriage, through either a civil union or a domestic partnership. Earlier this year, the governors of Illinois and 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. Delaware - the nation's first state - is thus poised to become the eighth state to legally recognize the relationships of loving and committed gay and lesbian couples, through either a civil union or a domestic partnership.
Thursday's House debate lasted three hours, and members rejected nine amendments, eight of which were offered by Republican lawmakers, before approving the bill. Supporters seated in the balcony erupted in cheers and applause.
"The fact that the Delaware General Assembly passed civil union legislation on the first attempt is a great testament to how far public opinion has come on equality issues," said Lisa Goodman, president of Equality Delaware, the advocacy organization that spearheaded the civil union bill.
A poll released last month by Equality Delaware found that 62% of state voters support civil unions for gay and lesbian couples.
"I think it's time for this bill to be passed, and it's going to be good for so many Delawareans for years to come," said Gov. Markell. "I'm really pleased with it."
"We were all created with special, unique, beautiful differences," said chief House sponsor Rep. Melanie George (D-Bear). "Our government respects those differences."
For the most part, lawmakers voted along party lines on Thursday, with Democrats voting in favor and Republicans voting for amendments opposed by the bill proponents. Two Republicans - Nick Manolakos and Michael Ramone - broke ranks with the GOP caucus to vote for the bill, while Democrats William Carson and John Atkins voted against it.
"I truly believe in my heart it's the right thing to do," Manolakos said.
GLAAD congratulates Equality Delaware on this important victory. We applaud Delaware lawmakers for their recognition of loving and committed gay and lesbian couples, and we look forward to Gov. Markell signing the civil union bill into law. In the meantime, we encourage the media to continue reporting on the significance of 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.