How marriage equality in Delaware finally took shape [video]

As the nation continues to debate the Defense of Marriage Act, Delaware became the 11th state to legalize gay marriage. Those who supported the bill celebrated on the steps of Legislative Hall as Gov. Jack Markell signed the bill immediately after the Senate’s 12-9 vote.

Same-sex marriage has been one of the most debated topics in the state and first gained momentum two years ago when the civil union bill was passed.

However, passing the marriage equality bill wasn’t an easy move for the Delaware legislature. The bill faced serious criticism.

The Rev. Leonard Klein of the Catholic Diocese of Wilmington was among a handful of religious leaders who made a final push of opposition before yesterday’s vote.

“The Catholic Church’s decision, very simply, is that marriage exists because there are two sexes. There are two in marriage because there are two sexes,” Kline said.  

Leading up to the vote, senators went back and forth on the issue for three hours making their final pitch.

Republican Sen. Ernie Lopez, who represents Rehoboth Beach, one of Delaware’s more gay-friendly areas, says he couldn’t shake his personal beliefs to vote yes on the bill.

“For me, this has been a difficult decision but one in which I believe, because of what I’ve know for the past 36 years of my life, that marriage is between one man and one woman. That’s why I’ll be voting ‘no’ today on this bill,” Lopez said.

Democratic Sen. Karen Peterson used the hearing to publicly come out as a lesbian and shared with the audience that she’s been with her partner for 24 years.

“This was a huge step for me today because there are a lot of people here who would just not be supportive, would be critical, would condemn, and nobody likes to expose themselves in the face of their philosophical enemies and I felt like that’s what I was kind of doing today,” she said. “But, last night I thought about it and I thought, you know, it’s time.  It’s the right thing to do, you get tired of hearing some of these points made over and over that ‘this is a choice.” You know, I don’t know any heterosexual people who made the choice to be heterosexual, why do you think gay people do?”

She told delawareonline.com that she was surprised on the day after her announcement that there was such a reaction to her statement.  Her comments weere picked up by many national publications.  She told delawareonline.com that she had received well wishes from many areas across the country.

Just before the vote, Democratic Sen. Bethany Hall-Long, a crucial swing vote, announced on her Facebook page that she would be voting yes.

“I believe upholding and securing the rights of all of our citizens is a sacred trust that we hold as public servants,” stated Hall-Long’s Facebook post. “That is why I will be voting for HB 75.”                                               

Nicole Theis, president of the Delaware Family Planning Council, warned that Hall-Long’s decision could have consequences on her political career.

“We did poll Senator Hall-Long’s district because she has very active evangelical churches in her district, explained Theis. “According to how we polled it and the intensity of the opposition in her district, according to that polling, she will be replaced.”

Hall-Long added in her Facebook post that one of the reasons she supports the bill is that it she thinks it doesn’t infringe on religious beliefs.

“My vote is guided by my belief in fundamental fairness for all Delawareans. As a Christian, I deeply respect our nation’s strong tradition of religious freedom and feel strongly about the separation of church and state. HB 75 makes clear that no religious institution will be required to perform any marriage, same-sex or opposite-sex, if it doesn’t conform to their beliefs.”

Sen. Catherine Cloutier was the only Republican senator to vote yes.  She declined to discuss her vote today.

Gov. Markell has been vocal about his support of same-sex marriage and making Delaware a state where all couples and families feel welcome.      

“It has taken us time to recognize what the children of gay and lesbian children in committed relationships have long known: that the people that they love and look up to, who have dedicated their love and their lives to raising them, are their parents, are their family and by extending the dignity of marriage to their parents relationships, we recognize what they know, that they and their parents are family in terms that are unmistakable and undeniable,” Markell said on the steps of Legislative Hall just before the bill signing.

“We’re saying in Delaware that it’s time to recognize all loving and committed couples in Delaware and we do that today, all of our love is equal, we respect all,” said the bill’s main sponsor, Sen. Melanie George-Smith.

Equality Delaware President Lisa Goodman said the decision sends a positive message to the nation and could even be good for the state’s economy.

“I think it shows the continued momentum of marriage equality in the United States,” Goodman said. “We know from looking at the polling numbers that the majority of Americans, 58 percent, are in support of marriage equality, and as state by state moves to marriage equality, frankly, this is going to make our state more competitive and more attractive to great employers who want good employees and so we think that just state by state this is going to continue to happen.”

Same-sex couples will officially be able to wed July 1. Additionally, all civil unions will be converted into marriages over the next year.

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