Updated 6:30pm: The Delaware State Senate passed gay marriage legislation, HB 75, with bipartisan support after hours of debate. Governor Jack Markell signed the bill into law less than an hour later. Same-sex couples can begin applying for marriage licenses on July 1st, which is before Rhode Island's law takes effect. The law establishes procedures to convert civil unions in the state to civil marriages. Delaware is the home state of Vice President Joe Biden, another proponent of marriage equality, and with the Governor’s signature the First State officially became the 11th state to legalize same-sex marriage.
After signing the bill Gov. Markell said, "Today, we wrote a new chapter in our history and proved, once again, justice and equality continue to move forward in Delaware." State Rep. Melanie George Smith, who introduced the bill along with Sen. David Sokola, echoed the sentiment: "In Delaware, we do what is right for our citizens. We don't wait for other states. We don't wait for the federal government. As legislators, we act right here in Delaware for our citizens."
The bill passed the Delaware General Assembly in April by a vote of 23-18 and followed suit in the Democrat-controlled state Senate, passing by a vote of 12-9.
From the time it was first proposed, Delaware Gov. Jack Markell vowed to sign the bill. The governor previously said that allowing same-sex marriage in Delaware “is inevitable.”
The push for gay marriage in Delaware follows the passage of same-sex marriage in Rhode Island last week, as well as wins for marriage equality in Maine, Maryland, and Washington this past November.
These state-level battles are taking place amid the backdrop of a Supreme Court considering arguments on both the Defense of Marriage Act and California’s controversial Prop 8.
National polling also shows that a majority of the public supports the move to legalize gay marriage. Nate Silver reported in late March that, on average, polls show 51% approval for same-sex marriage, with 43% opposed.
Delaware legalized civil unions in 2011, and while Gov. Markell hadn’t expected to revisit the issue so soon, he told advocates he was “happy to stand” with them.
But as Markell receives praise for his actions to advance marriage equality, taking a stand is not without cost for others, like Pat Brady, who have come out in support of gay marriage. Brady, the Illinois GOP chairman, resigned on Tuesday as the leader of the state party after taking heat from conservatives over his support of same-sex marriage.
The 10 other states to allow gay marriage include Rhode Island, New York, Connecticut, New Hampshire, Vermont, Iowa, Massachusetts, Maine, Maryland, and Washington. The District of Columbia has also legalized gay marriage.