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Delaware bill to legalize civil unions expected in March

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February 23, 2011

WILMINGTON, Delaware: At a public meeting on February 17, the GLBT advocacy group Equality Delaware announced their campaign to legalize civil unions in the state. The group helped to draft a bill and expect it to be filed in the legislature mid-March, with Sen. David Sokola (D) and Rep. Melanie George (D) acting as lead sponsors.

The bill would provide same-sex couples with the same rights and protections as married couples, including requiring employers to offer the benefits to civil union partners that are offered to married spouses. Equality Delaware President Lisa Goodman said, "We think Delaware is ready for civil unions. We are confident we have a majority of public support. And we feel very good that we have a strong majority in both houses of the General Assembly."[1]

Additionally, the bill would establish jurisdiction of the Family Court in the event that a civil union dissolves, does not force any clergy to conduct a civil union ceremony, and removes the criminal penalties imposed by the state on those who identify as married same-sex couples.[2] Under current law, anyone identifying themselves as such can be fined $100, with up to 30 days imprisonment.[3]

Equality Delaware has a 42-member advisory counsel, which includes over a dozen state legislators, along with Lieutenant Governor Matthew Denn, state Treasurer Chip Flowers, and clergy from Methodist, Unitarian, Presbyterian, Episcopal and Jewish congregations.[4]

Critics are arguing that the real goal is to legalize same-sex marriage. Nicole Theis, executive director of the Delaware Family Policy Council, stated, "It is no surprise to us that a civil union bill would be introduced this session. Our position is a vote for civil unions IS a vote for same-sex marriage in Delaware. Those who are advocating and lobbying for a civil union bill want marriage."[2]

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