The House Administration Committee voted 4-1 to send the measure to the full House.
Democratic Gov. Jack Markell has promised to sign the bill if it passes the Democrat-controlled General Assembly.
The measure was introduced last week, a little more than a year after Delaware first began recognizing same-sex civil unions.
Authors of the bill admitted that, from a state perspective, the bill offers little if any new legal benefits to same-sex couples in civil unions. But they said couples in same-sex relationships deserve the same dignity and respect afforded to married couples.
“Marriage is obviously a different status that provides a level of dignity that civil unions does not provide,” said Mark Purpura of Equality Delaware, a gay rights group that drafted the legislation.
Purpura noted that if the U.S. Supreme Court strikes down the Defense of Marriage Act, which bars legally married gay couples from receiving federal benefits, civil unions would not provide any protections under federal law to same-sex couples in Delaware.
House Minority Whip Deborah Hudson (R-Wilmington), opposes the state measure, but nevertheless joined Democratic committee members in voting to send it to the House floor, saying the legislation deserves a debate by the full House.
Under the proposal, no new civil unions would be performed after July 1, and couples in civil unions could convert to marriages before July 2014 by applying for a marriage license. On July 1, 2014, all remaining civil unions not subject to dissolution, annulment or legal separation would automatically convert to marriages.
Article continues belowLisa Goodman, president of Equality Delaware, said some 500 couples have entered civil unions in Delaware since that law took effect last year. Other couples have gone out of state to get married or have chosen to wait until Delaware recognizes same-sex marriage, she said.
Opponents of the same-sex marriage bill argue that it redefines and destroys the institution of marriage.
“What this represents is a complete unraveling of what marriage is,” said Nicole Theis, executive director of the Delaware Family Policy Council, a conservative group that has opposed both same-sex civil unions and marriage.
Other opponents argued that homosexuality is contrary to both nature and Biblical teachings.
“This is against God, the word of God,” said Tobe Witmer, a Newark pastor.
Richard Smith, president of the Delaware Chapter of the NAACP, said same-sex marriage is a right.
“Nobody should be denied a privilege or anything when they’re in love,” he said. “We as people cannot judge. We are not God. God will make that decision, not us.”
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