DOVER, Del. - A divided state Senate voted Tuesday to make Delaware the 11th state in the nation to allow same-sex marriage, after hearing hours of passionate testimony from supporters and opponents.
Less than an hour after the Senate's 12-9 vote, Democratic Gov. Jack Markell signed the measure into law.
"I do not intend to make any of you wait one moment longer," a smiling Markell told about 200 jubilant supporters who erupted in cheers and applause following the Senate vote.
"I am elated," said Scott Forrest, 50, of Newark, who entered into a same-sex civil union last year with his partner of almost 21 years, Kevin.
Delaware's same-sex marriage bill was introduced in the Democrat-controlled legislature 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 also noted that 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.
"All couples under the law should be treated equally by their government," Lisa Goodman told lawmakers near the end of Tuesday's three-hour debate. Goodman is president of Equality Delaware, a gay rights group that drafted the legislation and led the effort to get it passed.
Opponents, including scores of conservative religious leaders from across the state, argued that same-sex marriage redefines and destroys a centuries-old institution that is a building block of society.