The Delaware Senate today approved a bill authorizing same-sex marriage by a vote of 12-9. The bill narrowly won passage in the House in April.
The bill will likely be signed by Democratic Gov. Jack Markell, a supporter of marriage equality, making Delaware the 11th state to authorize same-sex marriage.
In an unexpected twist, Rep. Karen Peterson came out as lesbian during the debate on the bill. Peterson is the first openly LGBT legislator in Delaware history.
“No one chose to be gay. We are what God made us. We don’t need to be fixed. We aren’t broken. My partner Vicki and I have been together for 24 years. Last year, we entered into a civil union,” Peterson said. “If my happiness somehow demeans or diminishes your marriage, you need to work on your 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 does 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.
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.