Gay couples in Delaware could be allowed to wed as early as this summer under a bill introduced April 11. Legislators unveiled the Marriage Equality Act to a crowd of supporters at Freedom Plaza on North French Street in Wilmington.
The bill to allow marriage between same-sex couples in Delaware would also offer protections to religious groups – places of worship and religious leaders would not be legally required to solemnize marriages between gay couples.
The bill is backed by state leaders including Gov. Jack Markell, House Speaker Pete Schwartzkopf, D-Rehoboth Beach, Lt. Gov. Matt Denn and Attorney General Beau Biden.
In a phone conversation, Schwartzkopf said House Bill 75 would extend all the rights, benefits, protections and responsibilities of marriage to same sex couples.
Schwartzkopf said the bill already has 16 sponsors in the House, where it needs 21 votes to pass, and seven sponsors in the Senate, where it needs 11 votes to pass. He said all the sponsors are Democrats, but he hopes Republicans will sign on to the bill after it is introduced. “It shouldn’t be about politics,” he said.
If the bill passes the Delaware General Assembly, it would become effective Monday, July 1.
Schwartzkopf said he has seen first-hand the harm people cause when they fail to accept someone who is different. “I think we as a society are better than that, and I think this legislation goes a long way to show we are better than that,” he said.
Schwartzkopf also said the public perception of gay marriage has evolved and people have become more tolerant. “Our Congressional delegation is on board,” he said. “I think the country’s in a different place than it was five years ago.”
Leaders in the marriage equality movement also crowded the plaza. Steve Elkins, board member of Equality Delaware and executive director of CAMP Rehoboth, said the time is right for the bill. “I think it’s a wonderful piece of legislation,” he said. “It does nothing but strengthen the family unit.”
Elkins said support for the gay community in Delaware has increased exponentially in the last year. “It’s been really heartening,” he said.
Much of the support comes from citizens under 35, Elkins said. “It’s a generational thing,” he said.
Elkins said most younger adults are concerned with getting a job and buying a house, and marriage equality is a common sense proposal that they see no need to oppose.
Older generations are following suit. On April 2, U.S. Sen. Tom Carper, D-Delaware, who supported civil unions but declined to take a clear position about marriage equality in the past, posted his support for the movement on his Facebook page.
“As our society has changed and evolved, so too has the public's opinion on gay marriage – and so has mine,” he said. All Americans should be free to marry the people they love regardless of their sexual orientation, Carper said.
Markell signed a bill legalizing same-sex civil unions into law May 11, 2011. Under the bill, every civil union in the state would automatically become a marriage by July 1, 2014.
Opponents of marriage equality say Delaware’s civil union legislation, which went into effect in January 2012, allows gay couples equal treatment while maintaining the institution of traditional marriage.
Nicole Theis, of Delaware Family Policy Council, said in an April 3 press release that marriage transcends politics. “Marriage has become a political football that many legislators are tossing around and hoping to get it right,” she said.
“Marriage is based on the truth that men and women are complementary, the biological fact that reproduction depends on a man and a woman, and the reality that children need a mother and a father,” Theis said.
HB 75 was assigned to the House Administration Committee, which is scheduled to hold a hearing on the bill at 2:30 p.m., Wednesday, April 17. To read HB 75, go to delaware.gov.