Same-sex marriage in Delaware

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Legal status of same-sex unions

* Not yet in effect, but automatic deadline set by judicial body for same-sex marriage to become legal

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Same-sex marriage has been legally recognized in Delaware since July 1, 2013. Governor Jack Markell signed legislation on May 7, 2013, just hours after its passage in the Delaware House of Representatives and Senate. Though Rhode Island enacted legislation legalizing same-sex marriage before Delaware, on July 1, Delaware became the eleventh state, and twelfth US jurisdiction, to allow same-sex couples to marry, preceding Minnesota and Rhode Island by one month.

Delaware previously extended recognition to same-sex relationships in the form of civil unions, which grant same-sex couples the "rights, benefits, protections, and responsibilities" of married persons. Civil unions became available in Delaware on January 1, 2012, following the enactment of legislation signed by Governor Markell on May 11, 2011.

Civil unions[edit]

In March 2011, state Sens. David P. Sokola and Melanie George introduced a bill to allow civil unions in Delaware.[1] It passed the Senate Administrative Services Committee on March 31,[2] the full Senate 13-6 on April 7, 2011,[3] and the House 26-15 on April 14.[4] Markell signed the bill into law on May 11, 2011, and it took effect on January 1, 2012.[5] At the signing, he said:[6]

Tonight, with the signing of this law, we say to any Delawarean, regardless of sexual orientation, if you have committed yourself to somebody, and you've made that pledge to spend your life together in partnership, your love is equally valid and deserving, your family is now equal under the law.

Delaware civil unions provided the "rights, benefits, protections, and responsibilities" of marriage under a different name.[7]

In 2012, Delaware issued approximately 565 civil union licenses, with 250 of those being in Sussex County, 235 in New Castle County, and 80 in Kent County.[8]

As of July 1, 2013, civil unions are no longer offered to any couple and existing civil unions were converted into marriages by July 1, 2014.[9]

Same-sex marriage[edit]

In March 2012, Governor Markell said he thought that the legalization of same-sex marriage in Delaware was "inevitable" and would be passed "probably within the next few years".[10] In September 2012, Rep. Peter Schwartzkopf, who became House Speaker in January 2013, said he expected the General Assembly to vote on same-sex marriage in 2013 and that he would support it, but was uncertain of the legislation's prospects.[11] On February 1, 2013, in anticipation of legislative activity, Francis Malooly, the Roman Catholic Bishop of Wilmington, authored a letter to parishioners that said marriage is a covenant between a man and a woman that must be "cherished and defended".[12]

In April 2013, a bill was introduced to legalize same-sex marriage while eliminating civil unions and converting them to marriages by July 2014 if not dissolved earlier. W. Francis Malooly, Roman Catholic Bishop of Wilmington, wrote a letter to legislators on April 15 that said that marriage is not "just about love and commitment between two people" as many think but "it is also about the unique expression of love that only and man and woman as husband and wife can give to each other", that marriage is not a "label" but a "communion" that "is impossible without the sexual difference".[13] The Delaware House Administration Committee advanced the bill to the full House on April 18.[14] Governor Markell said he would sign it if it passed.[15] It passed the House on April 23 on a 23–18 vote.[16] The Senate Executive Committee approved the legislation on May 1. It passed the Senate on May 7 on a 12-9 vote.[17] Markell signed the bill outside the legislature within an hour of the vote.[18][19][20] The legislation was titled An act to amend Title 13 of the Delaware code relating to domestic relations to provide for same-gender civil marriage and to convert existing civil unions to civil marriages.[21] The bill adds the following to Delaware's marriage statute:[22]

The rights of same-gender married spouses, with respect to a child of whom either spouse becomes the parent during their marriage, shall be the same as the rights of different-gender married spouses with respect to a child of whom either spouse becomes the parent during their marriage.

The legislation also gave Delaware courts authority over divorce proceedings in the case of a same-sex couple married in Delaware who reside in a state that will not grant them a divorce because it does not recognize their marriage.[23]

State Senator Karen Peterson came out as lesbian during the debate on May 7, becoming the state's first-ever openly LGBT legislator.[24] When the statute took effect on July 1, Peterson and her partner were the first same-sex couple to legally convert their existing civil union into a marriage within the state.[25] The first same-sex couple to marry were Joseph Daigle and Dan Cole, in a semi-public ceremony attended by hundreds and officiated by New Castle County Clerk of the Peace Ken Boulden on July 1, 2013 in the Marian Cruger Coffin Gardens at Gibraltar Mansion in Wilmington, Delaware. Opening remarks for the first marriage were provided by Attorney General Beau Biden, an invocation was provided by Rector of Trinity Episcopal Church Pat Downing, and a reading was performed by poet Devon Miller-Duggan. Daigle and Cole were activists heavily involved in the process of passage, and Cole worked on writing and implementing the law.[26][27]

Subsequent changes[edit]

A bill removing "homosexuality" and "lesbianism" from the definition of misconduct which may be used as grounds for a divorce was introduced on March 13, 2016 in the Delaware General Assembly.[28] The bill passed the state House on May 10 in a 36-4 vote.[29] It was approved by the state Senate on June 9 in a unanimous 21-0 vote. Governor Jack Markell signed the bill on June 28.[30]

Marriage statistics[edit]

2,092 marriage licenses were issued to same-sex couples from July 1, 2013 to June 30, 2014. In Sussex County and Kent County, around 37% and 10% of marriage licenses were granted to same-sex couples, respectively. Same-sex marriages made up around 26% of all marriages statewide.[31] The high percentage is mostly attributed to the fact that same-sex marriages could not be legally performed in neighbouring states such as New Jersey and Pennsylvania.

Public opinion[edit]

Public opinion for same-sex marriage in Delaware
Poll source Date(s)
Margin of
% support % opposition % no opinion
Public Religion Research Institute April 5-December 23, 2017 219 ? 58% 27% 15%
Public Religion Research Institute May 18, 2016-January 10, 2017 302 ? 62% 25% 12%
Public Religion Research Institute April 29, 2015-January 7, 2016 239 ? 66% 25% 8%
New York Times/CBS News/YouGov September 20–October 1, 2014 471 likely voters ± 5.2% 54% 31% 15%
Public Religion Research Institute April 2, 2014-January 4, 2015 157 ? 57% 31% 11%
Global Strategy Group February 12–14, 2014 603 likely voters ± 4% 54% 37% 9%
Public Policy Polling January 26–28, 2011 605 registered voters ± 4% 48% 47% 5%

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Miller, Beth (March 23, 2011). "Delaware government: Civil unions bill filed in Dover". News Journal. Retrieved April 13, 2011.
  2. ^ Beth Miller (31 March 2011). "Delaware civil unions bill clears committee". The News Journal.
  3. ^ Chibbaro Jr., Lou (April 7, 2011). "Delaware Senate passes civil unions bill". Washington Blade.
  4. ^ Miller, Beth (April 14, 2011). "Delaware adopts civil unions bill". The News Journal.
  5. ^ Miller, Beth (May 12, 2011). "Governor signs Delaware civil unions bill". USA Today. Retrieved December 29, 2012.
  6. ^ Mucha, Peter (May 12, 2013). "Same-sex unions legalized in Delaware". Philadelphia Inquirer. Retrieved January 23, 2013.
  7. ^ Senate Bill 30, "An Act to Amend Title 13 of the Delaware Code Relating to Civil Unions, General Assembly of Delaware, accessed 4 December 2011.
  8. ^ "Number of civil unions 'exceeded expectations'". Delaware Newszap. 2012-12-30. Archived from the original on 2013-11-06. Retrieved 2014-04-05.
  9. ^ Ramseyer, Laurel (May 7, 2013). "Delaware Becomes Eleventh State to Legalize Marriage Equality [Updated]". Pam's House Blend. Retrieved May 7, 2013.
  10. ^ "Delaware governor says gay marriage is "inevitable" in his state". Reuters. March 2, 2012. Retrieved 16 December 2012.
  11. ^ Starkey, Jonathan (September 26, 2012). "Schwartzkopf: gay marriage a "no-brainer"". DelawareOnline. Retrieved December 16, 2012.
  12. ^ "Head of Catholic diocese in Delaware takes aim at gay marriage in pastoral letter". Washington Post. February 1, 2013. Retrieved February 4, 2013.
  13. ^ "Marriage is not for government to 'define or redefine,' says bishop". The Catholic Sun. April 17, 2013. Retrieved May 7, 2013.
  14. ^ "Bill authorizing same-sex marriage in Delaware clears committee, headed to House floor". Washington Post. April 17, 2013. Retrieved April 23, 2013.
  15. ^ "Gov. Markell tells activists he would sign marriage equality bill". Delaware Online. April 9, 2013. Retrieved April 23, 2012.
  16. ^ Dawson, James (April 23, 2013). "Same-sex marriage bill clears state House". WDDE. Archived from the original on May 12, 2013. Retrieved April 23, 2013.
  17. ^ Ford, Zack (May 7, 2013). "BREAKING: Delaware To Become 11th State With Marriage Equality". Think Progress. Retrieved May 7, 2013.
  18. ^ "Delaware, Continuing a Trend, Becomes the 11th State to Allow Same-Sex Unions". The New York Times. May 7, 2013.
  19. ^ Chase, Randall (7 May 2013). "Delaware to Become 11th State With Gay Marriage". ABC News. Retrieved 7 May 2013.
  20. ^ Byrne, Tom (May 7, 2013). "Delaware becomes 11th state to approve same-sex marriage". WDDE. Archived from the original on December 29, 2013. Retrieved May 7, 2013.
  21. ^ "147th General Assembly, House Bill #75". State of Delaware Official Website.
  22. ^ TITLE 13 Domestic Relations CHAPTER 1. MARRIAGE
  23. ^ § 1504. Jurisdiction; residence;procedure, accessed May 12, 2013
  24. ^ "Karen Peterson, Delaware State Senator, Comes Out During Gay Marriage Debate". Huffington Post, May 7, 2013.
  25. ^ "Delaware among leaders as nation changes course on gay marriage". Wilmington News Journal. July 1, 2013. Retrieved July 1, 2013.
  26. ^ O'Malley, Shana (July 2, 2013). "Delaware grooms celebrate first same-sex wedding". WHYY. Retrieved July 2, 2013.
  27. ^ Quinones, Todd (July 2, 2013). "Delaware Sees First Same-Sex Marriage Ceremony". CBS Philadelphia. Retrieved July 2, 2013.
  28. ^ "Lawmakers to Decide if Homosexuality Is Grounds for Divorce in Delaware". NBC10 Philadelphia. May 10, 2016.
  29. ^ "Delaware considers homosexuality as grounds for divorce". Marilyn Stowe Family Law. May 11, 2016.
  30. ^ DE HB320 | 2015-2016 | 148th General Assembly
  31. ^ Fisher, James (July 14, 2014). "Delaware's gay marriage boom may ebb". The News Journal.