Civil unions and same-sex marriage in Delaware
2013 MAR & APR: Bill HB 75 introduced
2013-MAR/APR: SSM bill HB 75 introduced:
State Rep. Melanie George Smith (D), who sponsored the civil unions bill in 2011, said on 2013-MAR-20:
"It’s going to be my honor and privilege to be able to sponsor the bill in the House of Representatives. ...We want to make sure that everything is lined up that we’ve got a bill that’s legally and technically perfect that way there can be no question. It’s such a controversial issue from some people’s perspective that we don’t want folks picking apart the bill on technical matters or anything along those lines. If we’re going to do this we’re going to do it perfectly. We’re just working to get it done perfectly. As soon as we’re confident that the bill has no legal or technical flaws and that everything looks good that’s when we’ll be going ahead and introducing it. ... You’ve really got a platform in Delaware where folks want to see fairness and they want to see Delawareans who are in love have the same opportunity to receive the same federal benefits as other people do. When you talk with folks about that, I think it really helps shape the nature of the debate and people understand what’s going on. ... When we have national leaders who are willing to support equality for everybody it kind of sends the message from the top down it’s a value that we in America hold dearly. We were founded on a nation of equal rights and that we’ve spent the last couple of hundred years trying to correct injustices where things aren’t equal." 1
On APR-11, State Rep. Melanie George Smith (D), introduced the SSM bill at a press conference in Freedom Plaza in downtown Wilmington, DE. 2 She said:
"Today is a good day to be a Delawarean. Today we’re introducing legislation that will respect and recognize with equal dignity all couples who are in a loving and committed relationship. We stand here today to say that we’re here to protect their freedoms also, their freedom to marry the person they love and every Delawarean’s freedom to do so."
Among the more than 100 people who attended the press conference were Governor Jack Markell, Lt. Gov. Matt Denn, Attorney General Beau Biden, New Castle County Executive Tom Gordon, Wilmington City Council President Theo Gregory, representatives of U.S. Sens. Chris Coons and Tom Carper and Congressman John Carney and Rev. Donald Morton of the Black Clergy Consortium of Delaware.
Senate President Pro Tempore Patricia Blevins (D) said:
"The marriage equality bill filed today will allow loving and committed same-sex couples the freedom to marry the person they love just like the rest of us. We say to gay and lesbian couples that their love and their families are worthy of the same dignity and respect as all of [the rest of] our families."
House Speaker Pete Schwartzkopf (D) referred to the 22 co-sponsors of the bill in both legislative chambers by name. The list includes one Republican: Rep. Michael Ramone of Newark. The rest are Democrats. He said:
"You will be able to tell your children and your grandchildren that you stood firm and voted on the right side of history in our state."
Lt. Gov. Matt Denn said:
"As long as same-sex couples in Delaware have to explain to their children why their relationship is called something else, why the law treats it as something less than the relationship that their friends’ parents have, than the message that we are sending these kids is that their parents’ relationship is less worthy. This bill ensure that same-sex couples can truthfully talk to their kids about their families the same way that married couples do now."
Governor Markell (D) referred to one of the lawsuits before the U.S. Supreme Court at the time, that is attempting to declare the federal DOMA law unconstitutional. If, as expected, the court overturns DOMA, then married same-sex couples in the U.S. will have access to the 1,138 federal benefits and protections that are currently limited to opposite-sex couples. But if Delaware does not achieve marriage equality, all of its loving, committed same-sex couples -- even those in civil unions -- will continue to be denied access to these programs. 2
About APR-15, Governor Jack Markell (D) expressed support for the bill. He said:
In 2011, when I signed [the] civil unions [bill], I certainly didn't have the intention of going back to it that quickly. But when the advocates came to me earlier this year, and said we think it's time, and I said, 'you know what[?] it is time, and I'm happy to stand right there with you'."
A hearing on HB 75 has been scheduled before the House Administration Committee on APR-17.
If it becomes law in its current form, same-sex couples it will take effect on 2013-JUN-01. The civil unions bill would be repealed. Existing couples in civil unions would be able to apply to their county clerk for a marriage license at any time until 2014-JUL-01. On that date, all remaining civil unions would automatically convert to marriages, unless they are involved in proceedings for dissolution, annulment or legal separation. Same-sex unions in other states would be considered as marriages in Delaware. 3
The First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution creates a wall of separation between government and faith groups. Thus clergy are free to refuse to marry any couple on any grounds. Many have exercised this right by turning down couples they feel are immature, or of the wrong faith, or of multiple faiths, or of the wrong race, or of two races, or even -- in the case of the Roman Catholic Church -- where one person is physically disabled. The proposed bill would add an extra layer of protection to the Constitution by specifying that no clergyperson would be required to solemnize any marriage that does not confirm to their religious beliefs.
The Delaware Family Policy Council is opposed to both civil unions and marriage for loving. committed same-sex couples. Their preference is that such couples be recognized only as roommates and that they and their children be without protection from the state. Nichole Theis, executive director of the Council issued a statement saying, in part:
"Marriage serves a purpose and 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." 3
2013-APR-11: Accusation by an anti-SSM group against Equality Delaware of lying:
The Delaware Family Policy Council opposes marriage equality. When hearings were held by the Legislature on civil unions in 2011, religious and social conservatives had brought in experts who testified that every time that civil unions had passed, the LGBT community would eventually return at a future date and seek same-sex marriage. That is a reasonable development to expect because whenever civil unions have been introduced by state, they have proven to be grossly inadequate. Same-sex couples had to fight to try to obtain the rights guaranteed to them in hospitals, in retail establishments, etc.
The Council accused Equality Delaware President Lisa Goodman of lying back in 2011 about her group's eventual intentions to seek same-sex marriage. During the hearing, Rep. Michael Ramone had asked Lisa Goodman:
"Do you perceive in any way that this [civil union] bill could be used to reduce the ability of a marriage between a man and a women [sic], to change that, in any way, by any organization, as a stepping point?" 4
"No. Short answer, no."
It is not clear to us what reducing "the ability of a marriage between a man and a woman" means. It may mean whether the civil unions bill would reduce the ability of a man and woman to marry. Of course, it would not. and did not. On APR-24, we emailed the Council for a clarification, but have not received a response by MAY-06; we do not expect a response in the future.
It would seem that Equality Delaware and other pro-gay equality groups sought to legalize civil unions in 2011 because they felt that this goal was achievable at the time. Similarly, they are seeking SSM in 2013, because they feel that it is achievable this year. If any action acted as a stepping stone to marriage equality it would have been the decisions by the legislatures in all but one of the New England states surrounding Delaware to legalize SSM. Maryland, which shares a border with Delaware, must have had a major effect on the hopes of LGBT community when that state legalized SSMs as of the start of 2013. Similarly, nearby Rhode Island would have had the same effect when it legalized SSMs in 2013-APR.
If any other barriers to equality for persons with minority sexual orientations or gender identities emerge in the future, I am certain that they will result in future legislative efforts. But one step does not necessarily lead to another step. Civil rights workers merely try to achieve what has a reasonable chance of success at the time.
This topic continues in Part 5
The following information sources were used to prepare and update the above
essay. The hyperlinks are not necessarily still active today.
- Michael K. Lavers, "Delaware lawmaker to introduce marriage bill," Washington Blade, 2013-MAR-20, at: http://www.washingtonblade.com/
- Michael K. Lavers, "Del. lawmaker introduces same-sex marriage bill," Washington Blade, 2013-APR-11, at: http://www.washingtonblade.com/
- Randall Chase, "Gay marriage: Is Delaware next?." Associated Press, 2013-APR-11, at: http://www.csmonitor.com/
- "They Lied," Delaware Family Policy Council, 2013-APR-11, at: http://www.delawarefamilies.org/
Copyright © 2013 by Ontario Consultants on Religious
First posted: 2013-APR-12
Latest update: 2013-MAY-07
Author: B.A. Robinson