Governor signs Marriage Equality Act

House Bill 75 to take effect July 1
Gov. Jack Markell signs the Marriage Equality Act into law less than one hour after the General Assembly passed the bill. BY © JUDY G. ROLFE
May 7, 2013

Same-sex couples in Delaware can be married - and entitled to the same rights as any married couple - starting in July.

Less than one month after being introduced in the General Assembly, House Bill 75 has passed both the House and Senate.  The bill was signed by Gov. Jack Markell less than one hour after a final vote to approve it.

“I know many of you here today, and many up and down our state, have waited years and decades for this day to come,” Markell said on the steps of Legislative Hall.  “I do not intend to make you wait a day longer.”

The measure passed the House April 23 in a vote of 23-18.  “It has been a long road,” said House Speaker Pete Schwartzkopf, D-Rehoboth Beach, at the signing of the bill.  “I have been working on this for 10 years, and many more have been working on equality for all Delawareans for a lot longer.  It’s a great day to be in Delaware.”

The Marriage Equality Act was approved in a 12-9 vote in the Senate May 7, after more than two hours of testimony in support of and in opposition to the bill. Citizens crowding the Senate Chamber burst into cheers after the roll call was announced.

All five Sussex County senators opposed the bill.

HB 75 grants all the same marriage rights, responsibilities and privileges to gay couples that are currently afforded only to straight couples.  The bill will eliminate civil unions and transform all same-sex civil unions into marriages by July 2014.

Same-sex marriages performed in other states will be recognized in Delaware under the bill. The bill also grants religious groups the freedom to decide whether to perform same-sex marriages.

Lisa Goodman of Equality Delaware testified in the Senate Chamber before the vote.  “It is about love, and it is about equality,” she said.

Equality Delaware President Mark Purpura, who wrote the legislation, was asked why the bill offered no protections for small businesses, such as wedding vendors, who do not want to service same-sex couples.

Purpura said under Delaware law is it already illegal for places of public accommodation to discriminate on the basis of sexual orientation.  “Since 2009…there have been no cases in Delaware related any wedding-related services for discrimination.  Zero,” Purpura said.

Sen. Dave Lawson, R-Marydel, asked Purpura why the Clerk of Peace was not exempt from performing same-sex marriages under the bill.

“That’s the Clerk of Peace’s job,” Purpura said.  “The Clerk of Peace takes an oath to fulfill the duties of his or her office.”

Purpura also said if the Clerk of Peace was morally opposed to performing a same-sex marriage, a deputy could be appointed to perform the ceremony.

Hours after the bill was signed, Sussex County Clerk of Peace John Brady announced his office was already preparing to accept marriage applications from same-sex couples.

Republican senators called a number of religious leaders to testify against the bill, including Glasgow Pastor Chuck Betters.

Betters made headlines when his Glasgow Church displayed a sign with a cross, a greater-than symbol and an equal sign.  “I was victimized by the vitriol of the other side when I took my stand,” he said.  “I’ve seen the end game.”

Sen. Bryan Townsend, D-Newark, said no police were called for Betters’ marquee message, and no charges were pressed against him; people simply responded to a message he put in public view.

Townsend – and other speakers – likened the debate over same-sex marriage to the debate over interracial marriage in the 1960s.  He said civil unions are not the same as marriages.  “A separate but equal system is inherently unequal,” he said.

Townsend said Delaware’s prohibition on interracial marriage – which remained in force until the Supreme Court ordered all states to allow it in 1967 – is an issue that hits home for him.  His fiancée, Lilianna, was born in Vietnam; Townsend was born in Delaware.

“The parallels that you’re drawing are unfair parallels,” Betters told Townsend.

Betters said interracial marriage is different than same-sex marriage.  “She didn’t choose to be a woman.  She didn’t choose to be black,” he said.  “This is a choice.”

Sen. Ernie Lopez, R-Lewes, said he played baseball with Betters’ son, Mark, who was killed in a car accident.  “You prayed with us, and you cried with us, and you showed me courage,” he said.

Lopez said Betters showed the same courage during his testimony before the Senate.

Lopez vowed to oppose the bill, and mentioned negative flyers directed toward him in the days leading up to the Nov. 6, 2012 election.  He said Delaware Liberty Fund, a group formed to get candidates elected who support the gay community, funded the flyers. “It comes down to trust,” Lopez said.

Sen. Minority Leader Gary Simpson, R-Milford, said a bill has never come before him with such magnitude as HB 75.  “What’s to stop polygamy?” Simpson asked.

Sen. Gerald Hocker, R-Ocean View, said before the vote, “There’s many in this chamber that don’t even believe there’s going to be a Judgment Day.”

Hocker made a motion to table the bill until the Supreme Court issues its ruling on the federal Defense of Marriage Act, expected in June. The motion failed by the same vote of 9-12.

Sen. Bob Venables, D-Laurel, read from a copy of The Queen James Bible, which offers alternative translations of Biblical text related to homosexuality.  “Here’s where the danger is,” Venables said.  “It goes on to say King James had many male lovers.”

He said he fears different translations the King James Bible would cause the book to lose its meaning.

Venables also recalled the Senate debate over same-sex civil unions two years ago, which he also voted to oppose.  “Things have moved a lot faster than I think anybody thought toward this bill,” he said.  “So far, I’ve not evolved.  I wonder what’s wrong with me.”

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