Delaware will be the eighth state to allow civil unions or comprehensive domestic partnerships for same-sex couples.
The state House of Representatives voted 26 to 15 Thursday night in favor of the measure. Governor Jack Markell, who has been a gay rights advocate throughout his public service career, has said he will sign the civil union bill, which gives gay couples the same rights, benefits, and responsibilities as heterosexual married couples. The Senate passed the bill last week.
"We are tremendously proud that the Delaware House has passed civil union legislation," said Equality Delaware President Lisa Goodman. "The fact that the Delaware General Assembly passed civil union legislation on the first attempt is a great testament to how far public opinion has come on equality issues. This is a great day for equality in Delaware."
Gay couples in Delaware will not be allowed to obtain marriage licenses. But the delmarvanow.com newspaper, owned by Gannett, noted that the bill, SB 30, was “written to parallel Delaware’s marriage code” and that opponents of the legislation believe it will be used to push for gay marriage.
"You have created a new civil right, but you've done it at the expense of the institution of marriage, at the expense of children and at the expense of taxpayers who have no clue what they're buying," said Doug Napier, an attorney with the conservative Christian legal group Alliance Defense Fund, according to delmarvanow.com.
"A vote for civil unions is a vote against marriage in Delaware. And that will be your voting record,” he said, speaking to House lawmakers.
SB 30 does, however, give religious institutions the right to refuse to perform same-sex union ceremonies.
Delaware’s civil union law will take effect on Jan. 1, 2012. States that allow civil unions for same-sex couples include California, Nevada, New Jersey, Oregon and Washington, according to the Human Rights Campaign. And earlier this year, Hawaii and Illinois passed civil union laws that will take effect in June 2011 and Jan 2012, respectively.