Delaware became the 11th state in the nation to redefine marriage Tuesday when Democratic Gov. Jack Markell signed a same-sex marriage bill into law just minutes after the state Senate passed it.
The bill, passed two weeks ago by the state House on a 23-18 vote, was introduced in the Democrat-controlled legislature about a year after the state began recognizing same-sex civil unions.
The bill doesn’t give same-sex couples any more rights or benefits under Delaware law than they have in civil unions, but advocates argued that it was the principle of the matter, recognizing that the word “marriage” holds value.
Supporters also noted that if the U.S. Supreme Court strikes down the Defense of Marriage Act, which grants federal benefits only to heterosexual married couples, civil unions would not provide protections or tax benefits under federal law to same-sex couples in Delaware.
Under the bill, no new civil unions will be performed in Delaware after July 1, and existing civil unions will be converted to marriages during the next year. The legislation also states that same-sex unions established in other states will be treated the same as marriage under Delaware law.
While gay rights advocates across the state and country are thrilled, traditional marriage supporters and religious and conservative leaders across the state stand firm in their convictions.
"Let's be careful about the concept of social evolution," said the Rev. Leonard Klein, a Roman Catholic priest speaking on behalf of the bishop of the Catholic Diocese of Wilmington, which serves more than 200,000 Catholics in Delaware and Maryland's Eastern Shore.
"When you remove male and female from the definition of marriage, all bets are off," added Klein, who urged lawmakers to show an "appropriate humility" for thousands of years of human experience.
Traditional marriage supporters also maintain gay marriage will bring many unintended and unforeseen consequences on broader issues, from religious freedom to school curricula, and could be used as a basis to argue for acceptance of even more forms of marriage, like polygamy.
"We're about to change the entire definition of marriage in order to make people feel good about themselves," said the Rev. Chuck Betters, pastor of Glasgow Reformed Presbyterian Church in Bear. Betters became the subject of biting attacks in social media recently after putting a sign outside his church suggesting that Christianity was more powerful than the movement for same-sex marriage.
Though the new law does not force priests to perform same-sex marriages, an existing state law bans “discrimination” based on sexual orientation, practically forcing business owners to provide marriage-related services to gay couples despite religious or moral conviction. Business owners who do not comply for reasons of conscience could be subject to discrimination claims.
Same-sex marriage advocates now have their sights set on Minnesota, which could be the next state to approve the unions. On Tuesday, the Democratic speaker of the state House said he had enough votes to pass the measure in his chamber. The bill already had a good chance of passing the state Senate, and Gov. Mark Dayton has endorsed it.