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Divided Delaware approves gay marriage

| Tuesday, May 7, 2013, 9:09 p.m.

WILMINGTON, Del. — Delaware became the 11th state to legalize same-sex marriage after a lengthy debate Tuesday in the state Senate and the surprise votes of two lawmakers.

A half-hour after the 12-9 Senate vote, Gov. Jack Markell signed the legislation into law on the main stairs in the lobby of Legislative Hall.

Democratic Sen. Bethany Hall-Long and Republican Sen. Catherine Cloutier provided the swing votes in favor of the legislation. Cloutier was the lone Republican yes vote in the Senate and one of two in the General Assembly as a whole.

According to the bill, Delawareans will be able to enter into same-sex marriages effective July 1. The law provides a mechanism for converting same-sex civil unions established in Delaware to marriages.

“I think this is the right thing for Delaware,” Markell said after the vote, while posing for pictures with supporters outside his legislative office. “It took an incredible team effort.”

Gay rights activists and their supporters in the chamber erupted in cheers after the vote.

Delaware's same-sex marriage bill was introduced in the Democrat-controlled Legislature last month, barely a year after the state began recognizing same-sex civil unions. The bill won passage two weeks ago in the state House on a 23-18 vote.

While it doesn't give same-sex couples any more rights or benefits under Delaware law than those they have in civil unions, supporters argued same-sex couples deserve the dignity and respect of married couples. They noted that if the U.S. Supreme Court strikes down the federal 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.

Opponents, including scores of conservative religious leaders from across the state, argued same-sex marriage redefines and destroys a centuries-old institution that is a building block of society.

Under the bill, no civil unions will be performed in Delaware after July 1, and existing civil unions will be converted to marriages over the next year. The legislation states that same-sex unions established in other states will be treated the same as marriages under Delaware law.

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