Delaware Senate Passes Civil Union Bill 13-6

A civil union bill in Delaware is headed to the House for consideration after the Senate passed it this afternoon by a vote of 13-6. Two senators were absent and did not take part in the vote.

Delaware_cu The News Journal reports:

The bill, sponsored by state Sen. David Sokola, D-Newark, with about two dozen co-sponsors, would grant same-sex couples the same legal protections and responsibilities as married couples.

"With liberty and justice for all – with this bill we give those words real meaning for more people," Sokola said.

The Senate rejected two amendments proposed by Sen. Robert Venables, D-Laurel. Venables wanted a public referendum on the issue before any such law could take place, along with another amendment that would broaden the bill to include opposite-sex couples and family members who live together.

WDEL adds:

The standing room only crowd burst into cheers after the measure was passed…The measure now heads to the House, where if it passes, the Governor is poised to sign it. Immediately after the vote, Governor Markell tells WDEL he's pleased.
'It's time for this bill to pass. It's time for the bill to be signed. It's the right thing to do for the people of Delaware,' says Markell."


  1. arbit says

    Why are things like this posted as if they were a victory for gay people? Measures like this do nothing but legitimize a view that gay unions are less than heterosexual relationships. We can’t have equality under the law, we’re taxed more to pay for heterosexual marriages, but here’s a consolation prize. Are the few rights granted by this almost-marriage designation worth us agreeing with everyone else that our relations aren’t real relationships? We should be booing these measures as we do the announcements of other hate crimes.

  2. Paul R says

    So Arbit, would you prefer to have no recognition under the law while we wait for people to accept our equality? It still puts Delaware far ahead of most other states—even many with civil union setups—so booing seems rather pointless. Hell, a Democrat wanted to put it up for public referendum, which could have meant it went nowhere. I’d rather have something than nothing, and this grants the same legal protections and responsibilities as marriage–not just a “few rights.”

    Seems odd that the Senate voted before the House, but I have no knowledge of Delaware politics.

  3. RDRCK says

    The first reader comment (ARBIT) on this story reminds me of when Congress passed and President Obama signed the repeal of DADT. Readers whined that it didn’t happen sooner and Obama dragged his feet on other issues, namely DOMA. B!tch b!tch b!tch – that seems to be the only thing that most readers here can do.

    We should be celebrating every victory we’ve got, and this is a great one. Congratulations, Delaware Senate.

  4. arbit says

    Right, and this will be used as ammunition against gay marriage. “Deleware doesn’t need gay marriage, it already has civil unions.” If we created a special legal designation for hispanics who wanted to be together and denied them the right to marry I bet there wouldn’t be celebratory rallies. We need to set our expectations higher. Enjoy your kinda-sorta-marriages.

  5. Gregv says

    “liberty and justice for all?” Is that what we call it when a citizen in the minority goes from being three-fifths of a person to four-fifths?

    Paul R.: This category is nowhere near having the same rights as mixed-sex couples. Not even close. And it never will be the same until we are all covered under the same laws using the same words.

  6. Paul R says

    @GregV: and that isn’t going to happen until change occurs at the federal level, and even then I’m sure they’ll allow states wiggle room. Again, do you want some progress or none? If couples in civil unions have the same rights and responsibilities under state law, it puts Delaware among a very small group of states trying to make progress. And yes, I would rather be considered four-fifths a person than three-fifths under the law. Progress on civil rights is always slow and halting.

    This is the unfortunate truth: we are still second-class citizens, and efforts to call it marriage can cause elected officials (see: supreme court justices in Iowa) to lose their jobs because wingnuts go after them. I’d rather have supporters remain in office using (hopefully temporary) compromise wording than demand—and not get—perfection. I’m sure that even here there will be plenty of people rushing to put this up to a public referendum, and that has never worked in our favor—not once.

    Indiana just blocked marriages *and* civil unions. Montana and Texas are keeping dated, unenforceable sodomy laws on their books purely out of hatred. And on and on. We have a long way to go. Delaware is a positive exception, giving us rights and protections that many other states are actively denying us. I don’t see why some view that as a negative. Any improvement in the status quo should be welcomed.

    Also bear in mind that 37 states, including Delaware, have laws similar to DOMA, with 30 states embedding it in their constitutions (though Delaware isn’t among that group) even though marriage is primarily a religious construct. So passing civil union legislation was the most effective, expedient way to get around that.

  7. Patric says

    Arbit and GregV, I have some sympathy with your perspectie because no doubt civil unions are a form of discrimination. I acknowledge that I have been decidedly less enthusiastic about the news of various states this year having enacted civil unions legislation than I was about Argentina recognizing marriage equality last year or I would have been about Maryland doing the same this year.

    Having said that, I think you’ve both made misstatements in expressing your positions. When you say that “[t]his category is nowhere near having the same rights as mixed-sex couples. Not even close”, I believe you’ve overstated your case and wonder whether you’ve read the proposed Delaware bill. As Paul R points out, couples entering these civil unions will indeed be deprived of many significant rights under federal law but that is no more true than it is true of gay and lesbian couples married in states like Massachusetts or Vermont and the Delaware legislature cannot do anything about that. A state commission which studied civil unions in New Jersey noted other respects in which they are unequal but, as much as I share your offense in principle at the notion that we should be afforded a form of second-class citizenship, I believe it is an overstatement to say that the proposed Delaware civil unions bill would offer nowhere near the rights under Delaware law which are afforded to married couples in Delaware.

    More significantly,when you suggest that “this will be used as ammunition against gay marriage”, your perspective couldn’t be more different than NOM and other hate organizations which have argued so vigorously against CU bills precisely because, as they’ve exhorted their haters, CUs are likely only a stepping stone on the way to full equality (or “gay marriage”, as they would call it). The classic case of this was Vermont, the first state to adopt CUs and some years later the first state to legislatively sanction marriage equality, and by a margin big enough to overcome the veto of a Republican governor. Once CUs have been in place for some time, I would suggest that it’s more likely that voters and legislators in a state are willing to take the next step or, alternatively as NOM recognizes, a court has been set up to conclude that a state willing to provide all the rights of marriage to gay couples can hardly argue that it has some legitimate interest in withholding only the name. Indeed, in those circumstances it is plain as ever that the withholding of marriage represents but an impermissible effort to favor one class of citizens over another.

    So I’m not completely disagreeing with you. It’s hard for me to get really excited about CUs. I too am impatient and frustrated that it’s been two years since the productive spring of 2009 and we’ve yet to see another state enact full equality. I just disagree with your factual assertions, particularly the claim that the adoption of CUs is likely to make the attainment of full equality in a state more difficult.

  8. HawaiiBIll says

    Well said Patric. My family will have many more rights,protections, and responsibilities when Civil Unions are enacted here in Hawaii in January 2011.

  9. says

    “Right, and this will be used as ammunition against gay marriage.”

    Not so sure about that. CUs in VT were actually used as ammunition for marriage equality (“gay marriage” is a misnomer). After CUs were enacted people realized 3 things: 1) The sky did not fall. 2) CUs are not equal to marriage. 3) There is no rational reason to exclude gay couples from marriage. Without CUs, there would probably not be marriage equality within some states.

    Let’s be clear. CUs are not the answer, marriage equality is. (For instance, if DOMA is repealed or found unconstitutional, what does that mean for people who are unioned but not married? No one knows.) However, they have been an important stepping stone towards equality, and they provide protections for gay families who need them now.

  10. Patric says

    Aloha, HawaiiBill, and congratulations again to you and your family! Here’s hoping that Hawaii is ready to take the next step to full equality within the next couple of years!

  11. GregV says

    I think a couple of people misunderstood my comment. I agree that this is a positive step TOWARD equality and that it is better to be four-fifths of a person than three-fifths.

    But one of our biggest obstacles to equality is having to constantly try to straighten out the onslaught of misinformation put out by anti-gay groups.

    This lies ranges from the idea that preachers will be thrown in jail if they don’t celebrate us in their church to the misconception that parallel state institutions under some other name (like “civil unions”) provide all the same rights and responsibilities that married mixed-sex couples are afforded.

    A straight Delawarean who doesn’t know much about the issue (like most voters) could easily drop by this blog, read a comment saying we now have equality (or the line quoted saying that this is “liberty and justice for all”) and go away thinking that all is done for Delaware gay couples now, so they can go home and stop “complaining” about anything.

    I’d compare this to when I heard that Saudi women had gained some rights. (Don’t quote me on this, but I think it was something like that they could now cast a ballot for local politicians but are still forbidden from voting in national elections or from holding political office).

    Is that a step forward? Yes. Is it equality / “liberty and justice” / the same rights as male citizens? No, it’s absolutely not the same yet.

    I do wonder what will happen if DOMA is overturned and if the federal government stops sex discrimination under federal marriage law. It could easily be that same-sex married couples in Massachusetts will be able to sponsor a foreign spouse, file federal taxes jointly, be entitled to a spouse’s social security death benefits, etc., while a couple that had their ceremony in Delaware will not be allowed any of that.

    Paul R.: I disagree that marriage is “mainly a religious construct.” Atheists, agnostics, and people of all religions (including Christians) get married all the time with the focus being on the personal commitment to each other and the legal ties to which they’re committing.

    Any given sect can make ANYTHING religious for themselves, whether it’s their wedding, the birth of a baby, or the way they eat breakfast. But From a government standpoint (which is all we’re arguing since churches can do anything they want), it’s solely a legal issue.

  12. says

    I agree with your comments, GregV. Thanks for adding them.

    It’s a continuing educational process. Even where I am in VT, where our work is basically done within the state, I’m participating in Visibility Day at the Statehouse next week with VT Freedom to Marry because at the federal level we are not done, and we need to keep informing people that state-marriages and CUs–while a positive step forward–do not equal marriage equality. The average non-gay citizen (and some LGBT people) doesn’t have the issue on their daily radar screen–unless they’re anti-gay zealots–without some persistence and clarity on our part.

    I have well-intentioned, pro-gay straight friends who really don’t know or haven’t considered what DOMA means. They think married gay couples in VT are now just like them. Some people–even gay people–remain convinced that marriage is tied to religion when it is not. All benefits and protections of marriage come through the State. The only function of religion in marriage is sanctifying marriages (whether they’re legal or not) they wish to sanctify via rituals and ceremonies that have no legal meaning. Likewise, marriage equality doesn’t infringe on any religious liberties. It’s so frustrating to continually remind people of this, but we have to or they don’t get it.

    The education must continue along with the push for marriage equality.

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