Notes from the Delaware House Floor
April 18, 2011 by Sarah Warbelow, Legal Director
Yesterday, to great fan fare, the Delaware House of Delegates passed a civil unions bill, SB 30, by a 26 to 15 vote. One week earlier, the Delaware Senate passed the bill by a 13 to 6 vote reflecting the desires of Delawareans who support civil unions two to one. Governor Jack Markell has vowed to sign the bill into law.
While SB 30 ultimately passed with no amendments and bipartisan support, the antics of our opposition has become increasingly desperate and sloppy. On the House floor, thirteen hostile amendments were offered by opponents – three of them particularly notable for their unintended consequences.
Amendment Three on its face proposed adding opposite-sex couples to the bill to allow them to enter into civil unions. A move opposed by the bill’s sponsors mostly because it would have created something called a fiscal note (due to heightened costs) which would have effectively killed the bill. What the sponsor of the amendment didn’t realize is that by simply adding opposite-sex couples to the bill as written would have effectively converted all opposite-sex marriages conducted out of state into civil unions in Delaware. As primary house sponsor Rep. Melanie George explained the problem, shear horror fell over the amendment sponsor’s face and his attorney refused to make eye contact with him. Of course, the representative introducing the amendment would never have voted for any civil unions bill anyway, but what Republican wants to be on record as trying to convert opposite-sex couples marriages to civil unions?
Amendment Eight proposed adopting Colorado’s “designated beneficiaries” law in place of comprehensive civil unions. In addition to “designated beneficiaries” clearly being a substantially inferior legal status, the amendment was so poorly drafted it lacked an enactment clause. If it had passed it could never have become law because it was fatally flawed. Even opponents couldn’t get behind this one. The amendment failed 25 to 3 with 13 representatives choosing not to vote.
The final notable amendment was Amendment Nine. Sadly, this purported “religious accommodations” language would have attempted to roll back more than five decades of civil rights legislation. As written, it would have allowed shop keepers to refuse to sell a wedding dress and tuxedo to an interracial couple or a restaurant owner to ask an interfaith couple celebrating their anniversary to leave the premises. Clearly, the bigotry of our opposition extends beyond the LGBT community.
All of these amendments were offered to Delaware representatives by attorneys from national organizations dedicated to fighting LGBT civil rights. It’s hard to say whether they are inept at their jobs or if they have finally come to accept that in the long run they cannot win. Either way, all Delaware families had a true victory!
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