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April 22, 2011

Delaware passes civil union bill by wide margin

It will become the 16th state to recognize gay and lesbian couples

Dover, Delaware--The state legislature has given final approval to a bill legalizing civil unions, sending it to the desk of a governor who is a known champion of gay equal rights.

After three hours of debate on April 14, the House of Representatives voted 26-15 in favor of the bill, which now awaits Gov. Jack Markell’s signature. Markell said that he will sign it as soon as an appropriate time and place are selected.

“This is about kids throughout Delaware who will know that if there is an issue with their parents, there will be stability in their lives,” he said, according to the Wilmington News-Journal. “People and their loved ones will be able to protect each other under the law.”

The measure is set to take effect next January 1.

The bill passed 13-6 through the state senate the previous week, and then faced nine attempts to amend it in the House of Representatives. One would have opened civil unions to opposite-sex couples, while another would have replaced civil unions with a designated beneficiary agreement. Each of them were designed, in one way or another, to weaken the bill, which mirrors the language of the state’s marriage code.

Republican Greg Lavelle, the House Minority Leader, was sanguine both about the passage of the bill and defeat of his amendment to add opposite-sex couples.

“This is democracy in action. Sometimes you win, sometimes you lose,” he said, noting that he did not think it was a horrible defeat or that the bill poses a massive threat to society.

The bill was drafted by attorney Mark Purpura, who after the passage said, “All the work I’ve done to get the bill passed is the greatest achievement in 12 years as a lawyer. Nothing has felt better.”

“I never imagined with all the years it took us to get housing and employer anti-discrimination bills done -- who knew this would be done in the first four months?” asked Sen. Karen Peterson.

The passage of the bill also brought praise from the mayor of Wilmington, James M. Baker.

“All Delawareans should be very proud today. This issue has always been about equality and doing what is right,” he said.

When the bill takes effect, Delaware will join seven other states with laws granting gay and lesbian couples all the state rights of marriage but the name: California, Nevada, New Jersey, Oregon, Washington, Illinois, whose measure takes effect in July; and Hawaii, which takes effect next January. Five more states and the District of Columbia have full marriage. They are Iowa, Massachusetts, Connecticut, Vermont and New Hampshire. Also, there are limited domestic partner laws in Colorado, Maine and Wisconsin.




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