Same-sex couples in Delaware are getting closer to their goal of achieving the same marriage rights as heterosexual couples. In Wilmington, Gov. Jack Markell, D-Del, joined members of Equality Delaware to announce the filing of a state marriage equality bill on Thursday.
The announcement comes just two years after civil unions became legal in Delaware. Now political leaders, three of the state’s largest labor unions as well as pastors are pushing the piece of legislation, also known as House Bill 75 that would extend all the benefits of marriage to same-sex couples. The bill would also make Delaware the 10th state to establish marriage equality says Rep. Melanie George Smith, lead sponsor on the bill.
She led the who’s who of Delaware politicians and supporters in a pep rally style event to show support for the measure. “All couples who are in a loving and committed relationship in Delaware deserve the respect and recognition of marriage,” said Rep. Smith, (D-Bear). “I had the freedom to marry the man I love. We should allow all family members, our friends, our neighbors, our co-workers and our children to marry the person they love.”
“The core belief that all of us are equal under the law is a founding principle of America. Until we are all free to choose whom to love and whom to spend our lives with, we will not all be equal,” said Delaware Attorney General Beau Biden.
House Bill 75 will extend the freedom to marry, and provide the same protections that are only legally allowed for the traditional couple. In fact, according to Mark Purpura of Equality Delaware who drafted the bill, churches will also have the freedom to decide whether or not to perform a marriage under the bill.
“So we’re not forcing churches to marry people they don’t want to marry, and that’s very important. We want to preserve those first amendment freedoms of religion for every religious denomination,” said Purpura.
Meanwhile, recent polling indicates that the majority of Delaware voters actually support the freedom to marry. House Speaker Rep. Pete Schwartzkopf who represents a large gay and lesbian population in his district, said many of his constituents have been pushing toward equality for years.
“I’ve seen what happens when people are treated differently because the state allows it by declaring that we are all not equal. I have never said this publicly before but that is why I fought for equal rights, that is why I fought for civil unions and that is why I am going to fight for marriage equality,” said Rep. Schwartzkopf, D-Rehoboth Beach.
If the marriage equality bill passes the House and Senate and is later signed by Gov. Jack Markell, it could take effect July 1st of this year, putting an end to civil unions. That means House Bill 75 would establish procedures to convert existing civil unions to marriages within one year.
“I pledged we would make Delaware a welcoming place to live, love and raise a family for all who call our great state home,” said Gov. Markell. “We can do so by ensuring that all Delawareans are treated equally, by affirming the value of love, commitment and family and by passing marriage equality.”
Gov. Jack Markell has vowed to sign the bill into law that would allow same-sex couples to apply for marriage licenses from the clerks of the peace.
“When I was a young woman, did I ever think I would be able to get married, not in my wildest dreams but now is the time for marriage equality,” said Lisa Goodman of Equality Delaware who had a civil union ceremony last year.
So far, more than 20 legislators have signed on to co-sponsor House Bill 75. The House Committee will hold a hearing on the marriage equality bill next week as well as welcome public testimony during that time.