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Del. advocates optimistic ahead of marriage debate

Jack Markell, gay news, Washington Blade

Delaware Gov. Jack Markell (Photo by Molly Keresztury via Wikimedia)

Marriage equality advocates in Delaware continue to organize in advance of the expected introduction of a bill later this year that would allow gays and lesbians to tie the knot in the First State.

More than 150 people attended an Equality Delaware-sponsored town hall meeting in Wilmington on Jan. 30 at which U.S. Sen. Chris Coons spoke. A second gathering that drew nearly the same amount of people took place at Camp Rehoboth in Rehoboth Beach on Jan. 31.

Equality Delaware President Lisa Goodman told the Washington Blade her group continues to work with the Human Rights Campaign, Freedom to Marry, the Gill Foundation, the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force and other national and local organizations on the issue.

The organization is holding weekly volunteer events, trainings and phone banks across the state to garner further support for marriage rights for same-sex couples. Goodman said Equality Delaware also continues to engage people of faith and communities of color on the issue.

“We are doing a very serious and robust faith outreach,” she told the Blade. “We had wonderful faith support for the civil union bill, and we are very confident that we will have an even broader-based faith support for the marriage effort. We also believe that we will have even broader support of people of color and across the board.”

Gov. Jack Markell, who signed Delaware’s civil unions bill into law in 2011, suggested to the Huffington Post last August that state lawmakers could debate a same-sex marriage bill during the 2013 legislative session that ends on June 30. He referenced the looming debate in his second inaugural speech last month.

“We will advance the cause of liberty, equality and dignity in our time,” Markell said. “Our state will be a welcoming place to live, to love and to raise families for all who choose to call Delaware home.”

Goodman did not provide a specific timeline in which she feels lawmakers would consider the issue, but stressed “we expect it to happen later this session.” She further noted House Speaker Pete Schwartzkopf (D-Rehoboth Beach) and Senate President Pro Tempore Patricia Blevins (D-Elsmere) are among the lawmakers and other state officials who support marriage rights for same-sex couples.

“Obviously given the events of this last election cycle, there is a lot of momentum,” Goodman told the Blade.

Neighboring Maryland is among the nine states and D.C. that allow same-sex marriage.

An Illinois Senate committee on Tuesday approved a bill that would allow gays and lesbians to the knot, while the Rhode Island House of Representatives last month overwhelmingly approved a same-sex marriage measure.

Hawaii lawmakers on Jan. 24 introduced two proposals that would extend nuptials to gays and lesbians in the Aloha State. New Jersey legislators in the coming weeks are expected to once again debate the issue after Gov. Chris Christie last February vetoed a same-sex marriage bill they approved.

“Every state that passes a marriage equality bill I think starts to convince other legislators that, wow, it’s OK for us to do it too,” Andy Staton, a gay Rehoboth Beach Realtor who unsuccessfully ran for the state Senate last year, told the Blade. “Legislators are very influenced by their constituency. And if the constituency is telling them not to do it, then they’re not going to do it, which is why it’s important for people to be vocal.”

President Obama spoke out in support of the same-sex marriage referenda that passed last November in Maryland, Maine and Washington. The White House has also urged Illinois and Rhode Island lawmakers to support measures to allow nuptials for gays and lesbians in their respective states.

Goodman said she expects Obama and Vice President Biden to do the same in Delaware.

“We certainly would welcome his support and have no reason to think that he will not be supportive and publicly so, as will our vice president, Joe Biden, who of course all of Delaware is incredibly proud of,” she said.

06
Feb
2013

Del. lawmaker introduces same-sex marriage bill

Melanie George Smith, Equality Delaware, Delaware, gay news, Washington Blade, gay marriage, same sex marriage, marriage equality, HB 75, marriage equality

Delaware state Rep. Melanie George Smith (D-Bear) (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

WILMINGTON, Del.— Delaware state Rep. Melanie George Smith (D-Bear) on Thursday introduced a bill that would extend marriage rights to same-sex couples in the First State.

“Today is a good day to be a Delawarean,” she said during a press conference at Freedom Plaza in downtown Wilmington. “Today we’re introducing legislation that will respect and recognize with equal dignity all couples who are in a loving and committed relationship.”

Smith, who sponsored the state’s civil unions bill in the House, spoke about her own marriage to her husband. The New Castle County Democrat also referenced Delawareans who are in the military as she spoke in support of the same-sex marriage measure.

“We stand here today to say that we’re here to protect their freedoms also, their freedom to marry the person they love and every Delawarean’s freedom to do so,” Smith said.

Governor Jack Markell, Lt. Gov. Matt Denn, Attorney General Beau Biden, New Castle County Executive Tom Gordon, Wilmington City Council President Theo Gregory, representatives of U.S. Sens. Chris Coons and Tom Carper and Congressman John Carney and Rev. Donald Morton of the Black Clergy Consortium of Delaware were among the more than 100 people who attended the press conference.

“The marriage equality bill filed today will allow loving and committed same-sex couples the freedom to marry the person they love just like the rest of us,” Senate President Pro Tempore Patricia Blevins (D-Elsmere) said. “We say to gay and lesbian couples that their love and their families are worthy of the same dignity and respect as all of our families.”

House Speaker Pete Schwartzkopf (D-Rehoboth Beach) specifically thanked HB 75’s 22 co-sponsors in both legislative chambers by name.

“You will be able to tell your children and your grandchildren that you stood firm and voted on the right side of history in our state,” he said.

Denn echoed Schwartzkopf.

“As long as same-sex couples in Delaware have to explain to their children why their relationship is called something else, why the law treats it as something less than the relationship that their friends’ parents have, than the message that we are sending these kids is that their parents’ relationship is less worthy,” he said, noting he attended Equality Delaware President Lisa Goodman and her partner’s civil union ceremony on the day the state’s civil unions law took effect in Jan. 2012. “This bill ensure that same-sex couples can truthfully talk to their kids about their families the same way that married couples to now.”

Neighboring Maryland is among the nine states and D.C. in which gays and lesbians can legally marry.

Aside from Delaware, lawmakers in Rhode Island and Illinois are expected to vote on proposals that would extend marriage rights to same-sex couples in their respective states.

Majority of Del. voters support same-sex marriage

A Global Strategy Group poll that Equality Delaware commissioned in February shows 54 percent of Delawareans back nuptials for gays and lesbians, compared to 37 percent of respondents who oppose them. A survey that ABC News and the Washington Post released last month indicates 58 percent of Americans now support same-sex marriage.

Biden said during the press conference that his father, Vice President Biden, and President Obama “stand with us here today.”

Markell cited the U.S. Supreme Court cases that challenge the constitutionality of the Defense of Marriage Act and California’s Proposition 8 as he urged lawmakers to support his state’s same-sex marriage bill.

“If DOMA is struck down as many expect, our failure to pass marriage equality here in Delaware will mean that we — not anybody else — will be responsible for the perpetuation of federal discrimination against committed same-sex couples in Delaware,” Markell said.

Jack Markell, Equality Delaware, Delaware, gay news, Washington Blade, gay marriage, same sex marriage, marriage equality, HB 75, marriage equality

Gov. Jack Markell (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

The Delaware Family Policy Council, which opposes nuptials for gays and lesbians, accused Goodman and other advocates of lying about their intentions to seek same-sex marriage in the state after lawmakers in 2011 approved the civil unions bill that Markell signed into law.

Goodman and other same-sex marriage advocates remain optimistic HB 75 will pass.

“Today is a historic day in Delaware,” Goodman said. “With the filing of this civil marriage equality bill, Delaware begins the process of becoming a marriage equality state.”

Rehoboth Beach resident Bob Hoffer, who has been with his partner Max Dick for 32 years, agreed.

“We’re very optimistic that this is going to pass,” he told the Washington Blade after the press conference. “Our country is moving forward in a more positive way.”

The House Administration Committee is scheduled to hold a hearing on HB 75 in Dover on April 17.

11
Apr
2013

BREAKING: Del. same-sex marriage bill advances

Melanie George Smith, Equality Delaware, Delaware, gay news, Washington Blade, gay marriage, same sex marriage, marriage equality, HB 75, marriage equality

Delaware state Rep. Melanie George Smith (D-Bear) (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

DOVER, Del.—A Delaware House committee on Wednesday voted 4-1 to advance a bill that would extend marriage rights to same-sex couples.

The House Administration Committee approved House Bill 75 after 38 people testified for and against the proposal during a hearing that lasted more than 90 minutes.

House Majority Leader Valerie Longhurst (D-Bear) voted to allow HB 75 out of committee along with state Reps. Pete Schwartzkopf (D-Rehoboth Beach) and Deborah Hudson (R-Faircloth.) Seaford Republican Dan Short voted against it.

“House Bill 75 extends the freedom to marry to all Delawareans who are in a loving, committed relationship,” state Rep. Melanie George Smith (D-Bear,) who introduced HB 75 last Thursday, said at the beginning of the hearing. “This legislation will respect and recognize with equal dignity all couples who are in a loving, committed relationship.”

She, along with Equality Delaware President Lisa Goodman and Equality Delaware Foundation President Mark Purpura stressed the measure will also protect religious freedom.

“This bill makes it explicitly clear no minister will ever be required to marry a same-sex couple,” Goodman said.

Rehoboth Beach resident Fay Jacobs, who has been with her partner for 35 years, urged the committee to “end our long run as second class citizens.” Richard Smith, president of the Delaware State Conference of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP,) described nuptials for gays and lesbians as a “civil right.”

“It’s an affirmative right for people to be together,” he said.

The committee’s vote took place nearly two years after Gov. Jack Markell signed a bill that would allow gays and lesbians to enter into civil unions.

The law took effect in Jan. 2012, but same-sex marriage opponents have repeatedly accused Equality Delaware and other groups that support HB 75 of lying about their intentions to seek nuptials for gays and lesbians in the state once they were able to enter into civil unions.

“We sat in this chamber just less than two years ago debating the civil unions issue,” Nicole Thise of the Delaware Family Policy Council said during her testimony. “The civil unions legislation is the most comprehensive legislation in the country. It literally mirrors the marriage law of Delaware, extending all state benefits to couples of the same-sex.”

Rick Hensley, a pastor at Grace and Truth Community Church in Felton, testified against the civil unions bill in 2011. He reiterated his opposition to extending marriage to gays and lesbian couples as he spoke against HB 75.

“The bill at hand is another example of the assault on the foundation of our society, which is the family,” Hensley said.

Rev. Jeffrey Ross of St. Peter’s Episcopal Church in Lewes noted his congregation began blessing same-sex unions before the state’s civil unions law took effect. He told committee members that we “cannot allow prejudice to prosper in our First State.”

“As a priest in the Christian church I need to support members who want to live faithfully within the covenant of marriage, even if they happen to be gay or lesbian,” Ross said. “I need you to give them that legal standing.”

Neighboring Maryland is among the nine states and D.C. in which same-sex couples can legally marry.

A Global Strategy Group poll that Equality Delaware commissioned in February shows 54 percent of Delawareans back nuptials for gays and lesbians. A survey that ABC News and the Washington Post released last month indicates 58 percent of Americans now support same-sex marriage.

Smith welcomed the committee’s vote during a brief interview with the Blade inside the House chamber.

“We’re very excited that the bill was voted out of committee,” she said. “We look forward to in the very near future having an opportunity to have a full debate on this on the House floor and passing it out of the House of Representatives.”

The full House could potentially vote on HB 75 as early as Tuesday.

Smith said she remains confident the measure will have enough votes to pass in the chamber.

“I’m confident that we have a majority of Delaware representatives — so over 21 of the 41 — [who] will do the right thing and vote to support equality in Delaware,” she said.

17
Apr
2013

Md., Va. to tackle bias, trans rights as lawmakers return

Gay News, Washington Blade, Carrie Evans, Gay Maryland

Equality Maryland Executive Director Carrie Evans (Washington Blade file photo by Michael Key)

Lawmakers in Maryland and Virginia will consider a number of LGBT-specific issues during their respective legislative sessions that began on Wednesday.

Maryland legislators are likely to consider a bill that would ban anti-transgender discrimination in the workplace, housing and public accommodations. The Gender Identity Non-Discrimination Act died in the Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee last April because Senate President Thomas V. “Mike” Miller (D-Prince George’s and Calvert Counties) reportedly blocked a vote on it.

Miller has publicly backed the proposed measure that gay state Sen. Rich Madaleno (D-Montgomery County) will formally sponsor. He and state Sen. Jamie Raskin (D-Montgomery County) are expected to champion the bill in the chamber.

Gov. Martin O’Malley, who signed the state’s first anti-trans discrimination law in 2002 when he was the mayor of Baltimore, also backs the Gender Identity Non-Discrimination Act.

“We’re very optimistic this year because the world has changed,” Gender Rights Maryland Executive Director Dana Beyer told the Washington Blade. “The attitudes of not only the voters who proved on Nov. 6 that they’re supportive of progressive issues such as marriage equality and the Dream Act, but also the legislators have noticed that and are feeling a little bit emboldened.”

Equality Maryland Executive Director Carrie Evans shared Beyer’s optimism.

The Maryland Coalition for Trans Equality has grown to include CASA de Maryland, Progressive Maryland and 17 other organizations. Equality Maryland has posted a petition on its website in support of the Gender Identity Non-Discrimination Act

Evans said this group is “modeling ourselves off of the” campaign in support of the same-sex marriage referendum that passed last November by a 52-48 percent margin.

“We have an incredible window here in 2013 with the strength of the coalition, the good feelings everybody has about Equality Maryland,” she said. “We are going full surge ahead and hopefully passing this once and for all in 2013.”

A proposed assault weapons ban in the wake of the Dec. 14 massacre at a Newtown, Conn., elementary school that left 20 students and six administrators dead and efforts to repeal the state’s death penalty are among the issues expected to dominate this year’s legislative agenda in Annapolis, but Evans highlighted other issues on which she and other advocates hope to work in the coming year.

These include working with Attorney General Doug Gansler and other officials to ensure the state’s same-sex marriage law that took effect on Jan. 1 is properly implemented. She pointed to insurance and tax-related issues for same-sex couples and making sure state agencies have provisions that include gender-neutral references are top priorities.

Evans said she expects most of these changes will take place through new regulations or administrative tweaks, but “they are working on answering the question of redoing all of the areas of state law and what needs to be done legislatively. Strengthening Maryland’s anti-bullying laws is another priority.

“The problem has always been making sure once the law is passed it is implemented at all levels,” Evans said.

Va. bill would ban anti-LGBT bias

Virginia lawmakers are expected to consider a measure during their legislative session that would ban anti-LGBT discrimination against state employees.

State Sens. A. Donald McEachin (D-Henrico) and Adam Ebbin (D-Alexandria) introduced Senate Bill 701 last October. The state Senate passed similar measures in 2010 and 2011, but they stalled in the House of Delegates.

Equality Virginia Executive Director James Parrish told the Blade last November that SB 701’s chances of passing in the Republican-controlled House of Delegates this year are “very slim.”

“While our biggest challenge is the House of Delegates, this will be an opportunity to get legislators on the record for pro-LGBT legislation and see if they are really supporting equality and their constituency this election year,” he said.

Adam Ebbin, Virginia, gay news, Washington Blade

Gay state Sen. Adam Ebbin is a Senate Bill 710 co-sponsor (Photo courtesy of Adam Ebbin)

Ebbin told the Blade he expects the Senate General Law Committee could potentially hear SB 701 in the coming weeks.

“The bill has passed the Senate before, but failed in the General Laws and Technology Committee last session,” he said. “It’s a sometimes challenging environment because there’s Republican control of that committee, but we’re working hard and hope there will be a breakthrough this year.”

Del. legislators expected to debate marriage

Delaware lawmakers are expected to consider a same-sex marriage bill between now and the end of their current legislative session on June 30.

Gov. Jack Markell, who signed the state’s civil unions law in 2011, suggested to the Huffington Post last August that state lawmakers could debate a measure that would allow gays and lesbians to tie the knot this year.

Spokesperson Catherine Rossi reiterated that point to the Blade.

“The governor expects that a marriage equality bill will be worked this session,” she said.

House Speaker Pete Schwartzkopf (D-Rehoboth Beach) described efforts to place a same-sex marriage bill on the 2013 legislative agenda as a “no-brainer” during an interview with the News-Journal on Tuesday. House Majority Leader Valerie Longhurst (D-Bear) added she expects Senate Majority Leader Patricia Blevins (D-Elsmere) and state Rep. Melanie George Smith (D-Bear) to introduce the measure.

Both legislators co-sponsored the civil unions bill.

Gays and lesbians can legally marry in neighboring Maryland and eight other states and D.C. Lawmakers in New Jersey, Illinois and Rhode Island are expected to consider similar measures in the coming weeks.

09
Jan
2013