A state Senate committee on Wednesday sent a bill authorizing same-sex marriage in Delaware to the full Senate for a vote next week.
The measure, supported by Democratic Gov. Jack Markell, cleared the Senate executive committee Wednesday after a 90-minute hearing.
The bill narrowly won passage in the House last week and supporters and opponents expect another close vote in the Senate when it takes up the measure Tuesday.
If the bills wins Senate passage and is signed by Markell, Delaware likely would become the 11th state to authorize same-sex marriage. A bill allowing same-sex marriage in Rhode Island was scheduled for a final and largely procedural vote Thursday, and Gov. Lincoln Chafee is expected to sign the bill into law quickly after it passes, making Rhode Island the 10th state to recognize same-sex marriage.
Delaware’s same-sex marriage bill was introduced in the Democrat-controlled legislature last month, barely a year after Delaware began recognizing same-sex civil unions.
While the bill would not give same-sex couples any more rights or benefits under Delaware law than those already available to those in civil unions, supporters say same-sex couples deserve the same dignity and respect as married couples.
They also note that if the U.S. Supreme Court strikes down the Defense of Marriage Act, which bars legally married gay couples from receiving federal benefits, civil unions would not provide any protections or tax benefits under federal law to same-sex couples in Delaware.
“What matters is that government treats us all as equals under the law,” said Jon Rania, a lay ministry associate and music director at Christ Episcopal Church in Dover who married his partner in Massachusetts.
Opponents, including some 50 clerics from churches throughout Delaware who rallied outside Legislative Hall before Wednesday’s committee hearing, argue that same-sex marriage redefines and destroys a centuries-old institution that is a fundamental building block of society.
“After tolerance, this movement cried out for acceptance,” said Tim Dukes, a Sussex County pastor and Republican state representative. “… The last outcry is for approval.”
Under the bill, no new civil unions would be performed in Delaware after July 1, and existing civil unions would be converted to marriages over the next year.
Supporters say the bill protects religious freedoms and the freedom of speech of those opposed to same-sex marriage.
The bill does not force clerics to perform same-sex marriages that conflict with their religious beliefs, but opponents note that under an existing Delaware law banning discrimination based on sexual orientation, business owners who refuse to provide marriage-related services to same-sex couples for reasons of conscience could be subject to discrimination claims.