Gay Marriage Ban Proposal Fails
by: The News Journal, delmarvanow.com
Mar 30, 2009
Dover, capital of Delaware
Dover, DE - Gay rights advocates gained two victories Thursday in the state Legislature -- the Senate's defeat of a constitutional amendment to ban gay marriage and the House's passage of a bill prohibiting discrimination based on sexual orientation.
More than 1,000 demonstrators wearing white T-shirts with the slogan "One Man, One Woman -- That's Marriage" rallied on the steps of Legislative Hall as, inside, both chambers engaged in lengthy debates colored by accusations of discrimination past and present.
Senate Bill 27, the defeated constitutional amendment, sought to make an existing state law that defines marriage as the union of a man and a woman more difficult to overturn. But many members of the Senate voiced concern that amending the constitution was unnecessary and even inappropriate.
"I believe that the constitution ... should be not a place where rights are restricted but where there is a positive affirmation of the rights of all of the people of Delaware," Sen. Brian Bushweller, D-Dover, said.
The legislation was sponsored by Sen. Robert Venables, D-Laurel, who said he wanted to make the already-illegal practice part of the state Constitution to prevent courts from being able to overturn the law.
Venables said other states have seen their legal bans overturned when courts ruled the laws were a violation of civil rights.
Far from gaining the three-fifths majority necessary for an amendment to progress, the bill was voted down 11-9.
Debate turns contentious
Several people testified in favor of the legislation, including Nicole Theis, executive director of the Christian group the Delaware Family Policy Council.
The overturning of gay marriage bans in other states has forced churches to comply with the laws and schools to teach that homosexuality is acceptable, she said.
"Whatever you put into public policy reflects what happens in the classroom," Theis said, holding up copies of children's books that depict gay characters. "I think most people would agree, how you want to live is up to you, but don't teach it in the classroom."
Theis said her organization expected the legislation to be defeated, but said it will continue to press for a constitutional amendment.
Drewry Fennell, executive director of the ACLU in Delaware, spoke against SB 27 and accused Venables and the bill's co-sponsors, including Sens. Colin Bonini, Thurman Adams, Bruce Ennis and Gary Simpson, of being motivated by their own biases.
"Elevating a prohibition that isn't based on one thing but discriminatory feelings is wrong," Fennell said. "That's not what we use the constitution for. I think it sends a message that many of you would not want to be sending."
The debate became more heated when the bill's sponsors challenged Fennell, saying the proposal wasn't based on prejudice. Pointing to Venables' comment that legalizing gay marriage could lead to removal of restrictions on pedophiles or relatives marrying, she accused him of essentially equating homosexuality to incest and pedophilia.
"It's hard to stand here and maintain composure sometimes," said Fennell, who is in a long-term lesbian relationship and has four children, ages 9 to 23. "I didn't bring my children today because I don't want them to hear anybody talk about our household that way."
Fennell added that if there were legal grounds to overturn the ban on gay marriage in the courts, she would have tried already.
The debate became more contentious when Sen. Karen Peterson, D-Stanton, a longtime gay rights advocate, asked Venables if the legislation could be considered a ban on heterosexuals remarrying because it specifies "one man and one woman."
"Anyone of normal intelligence would know what it means," Venables shot back.
"I'm trying to get the sponsor's intention on the record," Peterson responded. "I think it's a legitimate question that was not deserving of sarcasm."
Sen. Margaret Rose Henry, D-Wilmington, said the amendment reminded her of discriminatory legislation that previously barred people of different races from marrying.
"You couldn't marry who you wanted because you happened to be black and this is just like that," Henry said. "This is a bigoted effort in an attempt to hurt gay people who want to make a commitment to one another."