WASHINGTON -- Democratic lawmakers in Delaware introduced a bill Thursday to legalize same-sex marriage, with the support of legislative leaders and Gov. Jack Markell (D).
Delaware legalized civil unions in 2011. If it were to pass a marriage equality bill, it would become the first state to do so since the Supreme Court arguments on the Defense of Marriage Act and Proposition 8 triggered a significant public debate, with many lawmakers publicly expressing support for gay marriage. Concurrently, public opinion on same-sex marriage has shifted rapidly in its favor, buoyed by broad support among young voters.
"In 2011, when I signed civil unions, I certainly didn't have the intention of going back to it that quickly," Markell told The Huffington Post. "But when the advocates came to me earlier this year, and said we think it's time, and I said, you know what it is time, and I'm happy to stand right there with you."
The bill will receive a hearing before the state House of Representatives next Wednesday. It includes a process for gay couples to convert their civil unions into a marriage. According to sponsors, it protects members of the clergy from performing any marriage that does not conform to their beliefs.
The bill would seem to have a good shot of passing through the General Assembly, both houses of which are controlled by Democrats. They hold a 13-8 majority in the state Senate and 26-15 majority in the House.
Yet Markell indicated that he was not ready to declare victory. "I think this could be a challenge," he said. "I've learned that when you're dealing with getting votes out of the General Assembly, it's not done until it's done."
Vice President Joe Biden, the state's former senator, was first in the recent trend of politicians "evolving" to support gay marriage. In May 2012, he said that he was "absolutely comfortable" with gay marriage, and President Barack Obama announced his support three days later.
In the days surrounding oral arguments in the Supreme Court cases, many Democratic and two Republican senators publicly expressed their support for the first time. Sen. Tom Carper (D-Del.) was among them, doing so on April 2.
Gay marriage is currently legal in nine states and the District of Columbia. In November 2012, neighboring Maryland legalized gay marriage by popular vote, becoming one of three states to have done so.