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Del. Gov. to Sign Civil Unions Bill

by Kilian Melloy
Wednesday May 11, 2011
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The governor of Delaware is set to sign civil unions legislation that would make his state the latest to extend such recognition to gay and lesbian families. Currently, four other states also provide civil unions protections, and five states grant same-sex couples marriage parity on the state level.

Gov. Jack Markell is slated to sign the bill into law on May 11.

Equality Delaware has announced a celebration in Wilmington, Delaware, on the evening of May 11, which will commence at 6:30 p.m. and feature a performance by the Rainbow Chorale of Delaware.

Delaware lawmakers vote 26-15 to send the bill to Markell last month, and Markell pledged to sign it into law.

"When it came to this legislation, it was clear that it was about rights, it was about opportunity and it was about time," stated the governor. "It makes clear that if you’ve committed yourself to someone, and you’ve made that pledge to spend your life together in partnership, when life or death decisions come, we will respect your right to make those decisions together.

"It makes clear to children raised since birth in a homes of love, hope and help that just because both of your parents happen to be men or women, if one of those parents dies, you will not be torn apart from the other parent," Markell added. "I congratulate everyone who worked so hard to make these rights real and look forward to signing this bill into law."

The bill won approval despite attempts from anti-gay groups to derail civil unions in the state. The Delaware Family Policy Council launched one such effort, posting assorted claims about civil unions, at its website, including the assertion that, "A vote for civil unions IS a vote for same-sex ’Marriage.’ "

The Delaware Family Policy Council describes its mission as "To strengthen, nurture, and shield our Delaware Families by developing faith based alliances with churches, pro-family organizations, community and civic leaders, and religious organizations."

"Understand that if this bill passes, there is no going back," text at the group’s site declared. "Civil unions threaten to redefine marriage and parenting." The text went on to assert, "Every time civil unions have been imposed on a state, demands for same-sex ’marriage’ have followed. The activists lobbying for civil unions really want same-sex ’marriage’ ... The bottom line is that you can’t really talk about civil unions without talking about same-sex ’marriage’ because there really isn’t any difference. The goal is the same."

On Top Magazine reported in a March 13 article that the organization went further, making claims that children would be taught about homosexuality in school. Calling civil unions "a desperate and dishonest attempt to force same-sex ’marriage’ on Delaware," the group claimed in an "Urgent Call to Action" that, "If government changes the definition of marriage, which civil unions will do, it will have to enforce the belief that same-sex ’marriage’ is the equivalent of man/woman marriage. This belief will be taught in the classroom."

Such claims were pivotal in the passage of Proposition 8 in California in 2008. Anti-gay proponents of the ballot measure advertised the message that unless marriage rights were stripped from same-sex couples, young children would be taught about gay and lesbian families and same-sex relationships in the classroom. One television commercial depicted a young girl seemingly "choosing" to become a lesbian after reading a book at school in which a prince marries another man rather than a princess.

The state’s education officials decried the claim as false, but voters believed the claim. Yanking marriage rights from same-sex families did little to ease the fears of anti-gay parents, however; a year after the passage of Proposition 8, anti-gay activists in the state were still targeting school curricula, claiming that anti-bullying videos promoted homosexuality to children.

The president of Equality Delaware, Lisa Goodman, said in an interview with HRC head Joe Solmonese that was posted at the Huffington Post on April 15 that the group’s support of civil unions rather than marriage was determined by the political climate of the state’s legislature.

"We spent a lot of time discussing the issue and looking at efforts--both successful and unsuccessful--in other states," Goodman said. "We analyzed our projected vote count and concluded that we had the votes to pass a civil union bill. We were clear that we did not have the votes to pass a marriage bill.

"The civil union bill that we drafted (and passed!) provides for all of the protections, benefits, and obligations of marriage that are available under Delaware law," added Goodman. "We were keenly aware that same-sex couples in Delaware need these protections now, and we were able to secure them through this legislation."

Goodman also attributed teamwork and "row[ing] in the same direction" as a major element to the measure’s success. "We did very deliberate outreach in key legislative districts to encourage supporters in those districts to contact their legislators," Goodman said. "We had an amazing volunteer phone banking team who executed this part of our strategy. We were thus able to combat the opposition’s relentless anti-gay robo-calls.... Every time we needed something new, someone came forward who had the exact skills we needed."

Anti-gay groups have not taken their sites off the state, however. The National Organization for Marriage (NOM)--a powerful national group affiliated with the Mormon Church that proved to be a major force in passing California’s Proposition 8 in 2008, and then oversaw a successful ballot initiative in Maine the following year to rescind a marriage equality law before it could take effect--continues to work for an anti-gay amendment to the Delaware constitution.

But former NOM operative Louis J. Marinelli--who threw the anti-gay group into turmoil when he defected and declared himself a proponent of family parity--issued an April 15 press release praising the Delaware legislature.

"Delaware was the first state to ratify the constitution 223 years ago," noted Marinelli’s release. "At that time, they stood up and were an example for other states to follow in the birth of our new Nation. Today, Delaware has shown great leadership again by respecting the core principles of that very constitution.

"Equal protection under the law is basic not only to the fundamental dignity of all citizens but to the strength of our constitutional Republic," added Marinelli’s release. "This important victory is another step towards safeguarding that dignity for our citizens and promising continued strength for the Nation."

Kilian Melloy serves as EDGE Media Network’s Assistant Arts Editor, writing about film, theater, food and drink, and travel, as well as contributing a column. His professional memberships include the National Lesbian & Gay Journalists Association, the Boston Online Film Critics Association, and the Boston Theater Critics Association’s Elliot Norton Awards Committee.

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