Delaware Legalizes Same-Sex Marriage
On Tuesday, May 7, Delaware became the 11th state to legalize same-sex marriage. Delaware residents will be able to enter into same-sex marriages starting on July 1.
Advocacy Group Played Important Role
Equality Delaware is a gay rights group that drafted the same-sex marriage legislation and advocated for passage of the law. The group had also advocated for the civil union bill that was signed into law in 2011. When that law took effect on January 1, 2012, more than 550 couples entered into civil unions. Delaware’s civil union law provided couples all of the same rights and protections that are granted to opposite sex spouses.
The same-sex marriage bill was introduced into the state legislature in April 2013. The bill was passed by the Delaware House of Representatives with a 23-18 vote. The state senate voted 12-9 to approve gay marriage. During the debate, Senator Karen Peterson publicly acknowledged that she is a lesbian. She announced that she has been with her partner for 24 years. She stated that she and her partner entered into a civil union last year.
Less than an hour after the Senate vote, Governor Jack Markell signed the bill into law.
Civil Unions will Be Converted to Marriages
Once the same-sex marriage law takes effect on July 1, Delaware couples will no longer be able to enter into civil unions. Existing civil unions will be legally changed to marriages within the next 12 months. Under the new law, same-sex unions that were formed in other states will be granted the same legal protections as married couples in Delaware.
While the gay marriage law does not provide any new benefits or rights to couples who entered into civil unions, it does protect same-sex couples in the event that the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) is struck down by the U.S. Supreme Court. DOMA, which was enacted in 1996, restricted federal marriage benefits to opposite-sex married couples.
Opponents Concerned about Social Consequences of Gay Marriage
Opponents of the law have argued that same-sex marriage redefines an institution that has served as a building block of society. They fear that acceptance of gay marriage will bring unintended consequences on broader social issues.
The Delaware gay marriage law will not require clergy members to perform gay marriage if the union conflicts with their religious beliefs. However, under existing discrimination law, business owners who refuse marriage-related services to gay couples may be subject to claims of discrimination.
Gay Marriage Advocates Believe U.S. Has Reached Turning Point
The passage of Delaware’s same-sex marriage law comes less than one week after Rhode Island legalized gay marriage. Gay marriage supporters are confident that the U.S. has reached a significant turning point in the quest to legalize same-sex marriage throughout the country. This growing acceptance of same-sex marriage follows a significant movement by many states to declare gay marriage unconstitutional. In the U.S., 38 states have approved constitutional amendments that prohibit the legal recognition of same-sex marriage.