Governor Jack Markell signed landmark legislation this evening making Delaware one of only a handful of states to allow same-sex civil unions and fully recognize same-sex relationships. Couple who enter into a civil union will enjoy the same rights, protections and obligations that exist for married spouses.
"This bill is about a new energy and excitement," said Markell. "It's about a moment in our history that came about because people came together to work for it, because it became clear that Delaware's LGBT community is in fact part of every Delaware community. The greater good is served when we speak out and fight hard when we see that bias, prejudice or even outdated laws attempt to lessen any one of us."
The bill signing took place amidst a celebration at the historic venue World Café Live at The Queen. The theater, which had been closed for five decades was recently restored and reopened, featuring live music as well as community events.
"Tonight is a wonderful night for LGBT equality in Delaware," said Lisa Goodman, president of Equality Delaware and host of the night's festivities. "We are so grateful for the support of the Governor, the General Assembly and Delawareans up and down the state."
Rep. Melanie L. George, Senate Bill 30's lead sponsor in the House, noted that women and African-Americans fought for years to address inequalities in society, such as the right to vote and end segregation. She said that she believes "with every fiber of my being that this is the right thing to do."
"We are all different. We were all created with beautiful, unique differences," said Rep. George, D-Bear. "Who are we to judge that same-sex couples are any less deserving of the same recognition and benefits as opposite-sex couples? Our government stands for liberty and justice for all. We haven't always gotten it right, but we have worked to correct those missteps, and this is a major step toward correcting an inequity and injustice."
Supporters of the legislation noted that civil unions offer Delawareans equal protection and equal treatment under the law. Couples in a civil union would have the same protections, rights and obligations as a married couple, such as hospital visitation rights, property and last will and testament transfers, the ability to live together in nursing homes, joint adoption, and other legal issues.
Equality Delaware released a poll prior to the final vote showing 62 percent of likely Delaware voters support civil unions for same-sex couples, twice the number that oppose civil unions. Poll results showed that more people in all three counties and nearly every demographic -- men, women, seniors, residents ages 50 to 64 and younger than 50 -- favor civil unions than oppose them.
"Much of the resistance to this is couched in fear, but the more time we spend with people and the more you learn about them, the less threatened we feel by other people. The folks celebrating tonight include friends I've skied with, folks I've ridden a bike with and folks who've worked with me," said Sen. David Sokola, the lead sponsor of Senate Bill 30. "I see this celebration as a reaffirmation of our commitment to basic fairness to all Delawareans."
Also under the bill, Delaware would recognize legal relationships that same-sex couples enter into in another jurisdiction -- whether it is a civil union or marriage -- and treat the relationship as a civil union.
Co-sponsor Rep. Terry L. Schooley said that opponents of the bill were concerned that it would negatively impact their lives, but the only impact it would have would be a positive one on same-sex couples' ability to live in a committed relationship together.
Supporters"Research has shown that children living in loving and committed families -- no matter their makeup -- are going to thrive," said Rep. Schooley, D-Newark. "What we have seen through testimony is that families with same-sex couples are struggling because our laws don't allow them to be recognized. We are rectifying things so families with same-sex couples can stand just as strongly as families with opposite-sex couples.
"Tonight, we say to loving and committed couples across the state who want the law to endorse the promise they made long ago in their hearts - 'Your love is equally valid and deserving, your family is now equal under the law,'" said Markell.
"And tonight, we say to children of gay and lesbian parents in committed relationships -- and there are so many wonderful kids growing up in those families all over our state -- that it doesn't matter if your parents are gay or straight. The people you love and look up to and that are dedicating their lives and love to raising you -- those are your parents. You are a family. And while we've known it, and you've known it for years, tonight, that equality becomes real under law."