By Tim Jimenez, Elizabeth Hur
DOVER, Del. (CBS/AP) — Governor Jack Markell signed legislation to allow same-sex couples to marry, making Delaware the 11th state in the country to legalize same-sex marriage.
A divided state Senate voted 12-9 on Tuesday after hearing about three hours of debate. The House has already approved the bill, so it headed directly to Democratic Gov. Jack Markell.
There were cheers and applause from bill supporters in the chamber and the governor posed with supporters outside his office after it passed.
"Today, we wrote a new chapter in our history and proved, once again, justice and equality continue to move forward in Delaware," said Governor Markell. "In my State of the State earlier this year, I spoke about a Delaware that protects the rights of all of its citizens, no matter whom they love. By signing House Bill 75 into law, we are another step closer towards achieving that goal."
Kathryn Jakabcin and Kate Ransom of Wilmington are excited to mark the beginning of a new chapter in their lives. They celebrated and legalized their partnership of 28 years just last year when Delaware granted civil unions. Now, they say they are elated to share the same respect and regard of married couples.
Jakabcin explained, "Wow, who would have ever imagined 28 years ago? Let me start, my whole life, it was not easy."
Ransom added, "So it's an important day for us, for Delawareans and I think it's a historic moment for the country every time a state makes this important move."
The bill doesn't give same-sex couples any more rights or benefits under Delaware law than they currently have with civil unions. Opponents, including scores of conservative religious leaders from across the state, argued however same-sex marriage redefines and destroys a centuries-old institution that is a building block of society.
Nicole Theis, Delaware Family Policy Council President explained, "This wasn't about rights and benefits. This was about redefining something as foundational as marriage and so we are disappointed."
Pastor Anthony Wallace of Crossroad Christian Church in Dover added, "We asked them to consider, it's not bigotry, it's biology. It's physiology, it's chemistry and oddly enough, people in my community are accused of not regarding science."
Jakabcin responded, "I hope they are not sad for long and they eventually see that our government has to respect the rights of all people whether or not the people themselves agree with each other."
Delaware Governor Jack Markell reflected online during a Google-hangout after signing the bill into law. "We had decided that if it did pass, I would sign it pretty much immediately because the fact is, there are a lot of people, in that building today, who have been waiting for years or even decades for something like this to happen," said Gov. Markell.
Gov. Markell gave credit to equality advocates who spent years fighting their fight. He says their work and this bill sends a message.
"Delaware is a very welcoming place. It's a great place to live, to love, to raise a family, to build a business," he said.
Same sex couples can start to marry on July 1st, existing civil unions converted to marriages, and same-sex unions established in other states will be treated as marriages in Delaware. But clerics are not forced to perform same-sex marriages if it's a conflict with their faith. In the tri-state, Delaware is the first to allow same-sex marriages, in New Jersey there are civil unions, no such law in Pennsylvania. Malcolm Lazin with the Equality Forum is hoping that will change eventually.
"A lot of work yet to be done but I think we're all moving in the right direction and that direction is hugely positive and in favor of the American dream of equality for everyone," said Lazin.
He says next month will be critical noting if the U.S. Supreme Court strikes down the Defense of Marriage Act, which bars married gay couples from receiving federal benefits, civil unions would not provide protections or tax benefits under federal law to same-sex couples in Delaware.
"Let's wait and see what happens in terms of the DOMA decision and the Prop 8 decision in the United States Supreme Court," said Lazin.
(TM and © Copyright 2013 CBS Radio Inc. and its relevant subsidiaries. CBS RADIO and EYE Logo TM and Copyright 2013 CBS Broadcasting Inc. Used under license. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed. The Associated Press contributed to this report.)
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