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Civil unions and same-sex marriage in Delaware

Part 1

2011: Bill to create same-sex civil unions

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About the civil union bill and its passage through the Legislature:

On 2011-MAR-22, Senator Dave Sokola (D, Newark North) introduced Senate Bill #30 to create civil unions in the state. The bill collected more than two dozen co-sponsors. It restricts civil unions to same-sex couples only, just as marriages in the state were -- and remain -- limited to opposite-sex couples. The minimum age to enter a civil union was set at 18. Civil unions would be solemnized and dissolved similarly to marriages. A couple who enters a civil union would receive the same state rights and privileges as received by married couples where possible. Employers would be required to extend the same benefits to employees in a civil union as if they were married. However, private employees who offer health and retirement benefits under the ERISA federal law may not have to offer them to their civil unionized employees. 7

The First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution gives absolute protection to clergy who refuse to marry a couple for whatever reason. Clergy have historically refused on many grounds: the couple may be judged to be not sufficiently mature, or are not serious about the union; they may be too young, of the wrong religion, or of no religion or of different religions; they may be of different races; physically disabled; of the same-sex, etc. The First Amendment would also protect clergy who refuse to perform civil unions.

The bill was first considered by the Senate Administration and Elections Committee. On 2011-MAR-31, after only two hours of testimony, the Committee voted to send the bill to the full Senate. More than 50 people had signed up to offer testimony, but some were not given time to speak. 2 Four Committee members voted in favor of the bill; all were Democrats. No senators were opposed. The two Republicans on the committee abstained from voting. This is the first time that we have seen in recent years where both Democrat and Republican legislators actually responding to the wishes of their constituents on a bill related to sexual orientation: Democratic voters in Delaware are heavily in favor of civil unions; Republican voters are almost evenly divided.

The full Senate considered Bill SB 30 on 2011-APR-07. Senator Robert Venables (D-Laurel) offered two amendments to the bill. One would have required passage of a public referendum before the bill could come into force. The other would have allowed opposite-sex couples and family members to enter into a civil union. Both were defeated. The bill itself was then passed by a 2-to-1 margin without any amendments. 3

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The House of Representatives considered SB 30 on 2011-APR-15. It passed by a vote of 26 to 15.

  • Sen. David P. Sokola, (D-Newark), the lead sponsor of SB 30 in the Senate, said: "There are many more people who are publicly supporting recognition of same sex relationships, and this is primarily because they have friends and family and coworkers and neighbors who they know are in same sex relationships. These are people who serve in our law enforcement, protect our country, teach our kids, and they serve in civic and community associations."

  • Rep. Melanie L. George (D, Bear/Newark) the bill's lead sponsor in the House, noted that women and blacks fought for years to address inequalities in society, such as the right to vote and to end racial segregation. She said that she believes "... with every fiber of my being that this is the right thing to do." She cited Pastor Martin Niemoller's famous "First they came…" 4 quote from the World War II era, which details the inactivity of German intellectuals following the Nazi rise to power, followed by the extermination by the Nazi's of their chosen targets, group by group. [Webmaster's note: I doubt that Republicans and religious conservatives were impressed by that quote.] She also said:

    "We are all different. We were all created with beautiful, unique differences. Who are we to judge that same-sex couples are any less deserving of the same recognition and benefits as opposite-sex couples? Our government stands for liberty and justice for all. We haven’t always gotten it right, but we have worked to correct those missteps. Today, we corrected an inequity and injustice by passing this legislation."

  • Rep. Terry L. Schooley, (D, 16th district) a co-sponsor of the bill, said that the only impact of the bill will a positive one when same-sex couples will be able to live in a state-recognized committed relationship together. She said that the negative impact expected by opponents of the bill will not materialize. She said:

    "Research has shown that children living in loving and committed families -– no matter their makeup -– are going to thrive. What we have seen through testimony is that families with same-sex couples are struggling because our laws don’t allow them to be recognized. We are rectifying things so families with same-sex couples can stand just as strongly as families with opposite-sex couples."

  • On 2011-MAY-11, on the stage in the World Café Live at the Queen in Wilmington, Governor Markell (D) signed the bill into law. In the presence of almost 600 celebrating people, he said:

    "When it came to this legislation, it was clear that it was about rights, it was about opportunity. and it was about time. 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. ... Your love is equally valid and deserving.  Your family is now equal under the law. It makes clear to children raised since birth in a homes of love, hope and help that just because both of your parents happen to be men or women, if one of those parents dies, you will not be torn apart from the other parent." 5

    As he signed the bill, he was surrounded by numerous children of lesbian and gay couples. He said to them:

    "... It doesn't matter if your parents are gay or straight. The people you love and look up to and who are dedicating their love and their lives to raising you… those…are…your…parents."

    Eve Davis of Wilmington, the mother of triplets, was present at the signing. She said:

    "My partner and I to get the triplets had to go through so many hoops and so many legal issues because we weren’t covered, we weren’t treated equally. It’s positive all the way around as far as protecting our families, and protecting our assets — also, showing our family that we’re just as normal as everybody else."

John Peterson of Newark said:

"I’m really proud that Delaware stepped forward to become one of the few states to have done this. It’s very important to have rights you can actually defend in court.”

President Lisa Goodman of Equality Delaware said:

"I’ve never been prouder to be a Delawarean. ... [The organization works] to ensure and promote dignity, safety and equality for all lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender Delawareans." 6

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Opposition towards Bill 30 by the Delaware Family Policy Council:

The Council and its executive director, Nicole Theis, provided much of the opposition to Bill 30. The Council's stated mission is:

"To strengthen, nurture, and shield our Delaware Families by developing faith based alliances with churches, pro-family organizations, community and civic leaders, and religious organizations."

They advocate for conservative Christian "family values and preserving the integrity of the family as an institution." 9 By the term "Delaware Families" they are referring only to families in Delaware that are led by single parents or by parents of opposite genders. They do not recognize loving, committed relationships between persons of the same gender as authentic, nor do they approve of same-sex parenting. Nichole Theis has said that the Council opposes Bill 30 because they regard it as a "dishonest" attempt to legalize same-sex marriage in Delaware.

She testified that recognizing the relationships of loving, committed same-sex couples -- either via marriage or civil unions -- is not a human rights issue. She reasons that since adults in Delaware are free to marry a person of the opposite gender, that lesbians, gays and bisexuals can simply marry a person to whom they are not sexually attracted. This is a curious belief, because opposite-sex marriages by non-heterosexuals almost invariably end in divorce, and the Council also opposes divorce. Nicole Theis said:

"Our position is that this debate has nothing to do with civil rights. We all have the same freedom to marry a member of the opposite sex. ... Marriage is about bringing male and female together, and that is good. Same-sex marriage redefines marriage, saying that men and women are optional for the family." 10

That is a curious comment, because the debate surrounding Bill 30 is not about same-sex marriage; it is about same-sex couples entering into civil unions, which are definitely not marriages. Civil unions lack what is to most couples the most important right: to call their relationship a marriage. Also, although they receive the same state rights as do opposite-sex married couples, they are denied all of the federal rights, benefits and protections given to opposite-sex married couples because of the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA). If and when DOMA is repealed, they still will not receive benefits from federal programs.

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This topic continues in Part 2

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References used:

The following information sources were used to prepare and update the above essay. The hyperlinks are not necessarily still active today.

  1. "Senate Bill #30," State of Delaware, 2011-MAY-11, at: http://legis.delaware.gov/
  2. State & County QuickFacts: Delaware," U.S. Census Bureau, 2010, at: http://quickfacts.census.gov/
  3. John Rago, "Statewide Poll Shows Broad Support Among Likely Voters in Delaware for a Civil Union Law," Equality Delaware, 2011-MAR-25, at: http://equalitydelaware.org/
  4. "Delaware Senate panel advances civil union bill," Towleroad, 2011-MAR-31, at: http://www.towleroad.com/
  5. Doug Denison, "Update: Civil unions bill out of Senate committee," Denver Post, 2011-MAR-30, at: http://www.milfordbeacon.com/
  6. State & County QuickFacts: Delaware," U.S. Census Bureau, 2010, at: http://quickfacts.census.gov/
  7. "Important Facts About the Delaware Civil Union Bill," Equality Delaware, 2011-FEB-16, at: http://equalitydelaware.org/
  8. Abby Rapopot, "Faster and Faster: The Same-Sex Marriage Momentum," The American Prospect, 2013-JAN-14, at: http://prospect.org/
  9. "Delaware Family Policy Council," Project Vote Smart, undated, at: http://votesmart.org/
  10. Doug Denison, "UPDATE: Civil unions bill out of Senate committee," Dover Post, 2011-MAR-30, at: http://www.doverpost.com/


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Home > "Hot" topics > Homosexuality > Couples > SSM/Civil unions > Delaware > here

Copyright © 2011 to 2013 by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
First posted: 2011-JUN-26
Latest update: 2013-APR-12
Author: B.A. Robinson

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