Same-sex marriage is one Senate vote away from becoming legal in the state of Delaware. The six-member Senate Executive Committee voted 4-0 May 1 to send House Bill 75 to the full Senate for consideration.
The measure passed the House 23-18 April 23.
Sen. David Soloka, D-Newark, who authored the state's current civil union law for same-sex couples, said in a press release he is proud to be a sponsor of the bill. "I'm a big believer in equal justice under the law," he said.
If approved, the bill would take effect Monday, July 1. According to the bill, couples united under the civil union law would have their legal status changed to married by July 1, 2014.
If HB 75 passes the Senate, Gov. Jack Markell has said he would sign the bill into law. "It's right in terms of sending a signal to people, whether they're gay or they're straight, that they're welcome here in Delaware," he said in a press release.
Under the two-year-old civil union law, couples had most of the benefits of a married couple at the state level but were denied some federal benefits because of the federal Defense of Marriage Act.
Lisa Goodman of Equality Delaware said since Delaware's civil union law passed, the national landscape has changed. "That the president and the vice president would be supportive of marriage, and now DOMA's in front of the Supreme Court with every reasonable person thinking there are at least five votes to overturn it; that we would win four ballot initiatives; that more states would move to marriage," Goodman said. "It's been a huge change in those two years."
As the Senate committee moved marriage equality forward, religious leaders rallied to halt the legislation. More than 60 pastors gathered outside of Legislative Hall May 1 to support the definition of marriage as a union between a man and a woman.
Maribel Zaragoza, a pastor and doctor, said when the civil union bill passed, she and other religious leaders were promised same-sex marriage would not come to Delaware.
"We live in America, and we are all free to live as we choose, but no one has the right to redefine marriage for everyone," she said. "Redefining marriage converts marriage from an institution centered on the needs of children to an institution focused on the desire of adults."
Rep. Tim Dukes, R-Laurel, who is also the pastor of Central Worship Center in Laurel, said, “This is really not about equality. This is not about equal rights. This is about protecting the greatest foundation that has ever been established.”
The Senate is scheduled to vote on HB 75, Tuesday, May 7.