Senators voted on Tuesday0 to make Delaware the 11th state to currently offer same-sex marriage rights, and Governor Jack Markell signed the bill into law just hours later.
The effort, introduced by Rep. Melanie George Smith (D-Bear/Newark) and Sen. David Sokola (D-Newark), is the culmination of an effort started two years ago when Delaware passed an everything-but-marriage civil unions law.
The new law repeals the ban on marriages for same-sex couples that was approved in 1996. Civil union licenses will now no longer be issued and the marriage equality law will go into effect on July 1, at which time existing civil unions will be converted to marriages.
Tuesday’s debate saw a number of strong testaments for equality, none more so perhaps than when Senator Karen Peterson, D-Stanton, acknowledged for the first time in public that yes, she is in a 24 year relationship with someone of the same sex.
“My partner Vicki and I have been together for 24 years,” she told legislators. “Last year, we entered into a civil union.”
“If my happiness somehow demeans or diminishes your marriage, you need to work on your marriage. We don’t need to be fixed. We’re not broken.”
“No one chose to be gay. We are what God made us. We’re not seeking to redefine marriage, but to expand it, just as Loving verses Virginia did,” this a reference to the landmark Supreme Court of the United States ruling that invalidated laws against interracial marriage.
Opponents were of course on hand to give their dire predictions with the usual arguments that, despite the bill’s very clear religious exemptions, the marriage equality law would force citizens to condone same-sex marriages, and that the legislation destroys the traditional family and will mean that polygamy will soon be legalized.
To clarify, the law does not force religious leaders to officiate same-sex marriages, nor does it mandate anyone must accept same-sex marriage.
The law will mean that, per Delaware’s existing 2009 gay-inclusive nondiscrimination laws, retailers and businesses such as bridal shops and cake makers could be subject to a discrimination claim if they refuse to serve a same-sex couple, but again this was already the case regarding Delaware’s existing civil unions law, and again this is in reference to public business practice and not specifically marriage equality.
Governor Jack Markell, saying he did not want marriage equality proponents to wait even a minute longer, signed the law late Tuesday.
“Today, we wrote a new chapter in our history and proved, once again, justice and equality continue to move forward in Delaware. In my State of the State earlier this year, I spoke about a Delaware that protects the rights of all of its citizens, no matter whom they love. By signing House Bill 75 into law, we are another step closer towards achieving that goal.”
Delaware’s victory comes less than a week after Rhode Island passed its own marriage equality legislation.
Eyes now turn to Minnesota, where a monumental battle that could truly mark a turning point for the marriage equality fight is about to get underway.
Only last year, Minnesota defeated at the ballot an amendment that would have codified the state’s existing ban on same-sex marriage. On Thursday, state house legislators will take up a bill to legalize marriage equality.
The 73-member DFL (Democratic) majority has made it known it has the 68 votes needed to pass the bill allowing same-sex couples to wed without a single Republican needed to vote on the measure. However, ensuring the bill’s passage will rely on at least a sizable proportion of undecided DFL legislators joining with the democratic majority.
With regards to the Minnesota state senate, gauging support has been more difficult, but there is optimism that the votes are present.
As of Tuesday, however, no GOP lawmakers in the state house or senate have said they would support the bill.
DFL Gov. Mark Dayton has already said he would sign the bill if it reaches his desk.
In the meantime, congratulations to Delaware for joining the other 10 states and Washington D.C. where marriage equality is now legal.
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