Both chambers of the Delaware General Assembly passed a bill last week that would include sexual orientation as a class protected from discrimination in employment, housing, public-works contracting, public accommodations and insurance.
The Senate approved the bill late in the evening June 24 and about an hour later, the House followed suit.
A spokesperson for Gov. Jack Markell (D) confirmed that the governor will sign the bill, but said it is not scheduled to come to his desk until later this month.
“We’re very excited,” said Bob Martz, president of Delaware Liberty Fund, which backs LGBT-friendly candidates and legislation. “We aren’t the first, even though we are the first state, but we certainly aren’t the last.”
Over the past 10 years, the House approved three similar bills, but the Senate never took up the legislation, falling victim to the so-called “desk-drawer veto” policy, which allowed Senate President Pro Tempore Thurman Adams (D), who died the day before the Assembly vote, to refuse to assign the legislation to a committee, effectively killing it.
At the beginning of the latest legislative session, however, the Senate approved new rules requiring the president pro tempore to assign bills to committees.
After the House approved the nondiscrimination bill in March, however, Adams assigned it to the executive committee, which he chaired.
Martz said through some “political wrangling,” Sen. David Sokola (D) reintroduced the bill and it went to the Senate Insurance Committee, which approved the legislation last month.
“The votes were stacked against us in the Executive Committee, but they reached an agreement to reintroduce the exact same bill with a different number,” Martz said. “We had enough votes to suspend the rules and force a vote out of the committee, but the leadership decided that rather than suffer a loss there, we’d have it sent to a favorable committee, and ultimately it passed there.”
Prior to the vote, supporters of the bill defeated numerous amendments.
Opponents unsuccessfully attempted to amend the legislation to clarify that the legislature does not “purport to acknowledge, bless, encourage or otherwise uphold same-sex relationships” and “reaffirms its commitment to marriage as the union of one man and one woman, as made abundantly clear in Delaware law.”
Another amendment included a measure that the bill should not be interpreted to allow “any educational authority figure” to discuss “sexual-orientation-related behavior, families [or] family structures” in a school setting.
The legislation includes an exemption for religious organizations.
A similar bill currently in the Pennsylvania legislature would prohibit discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity in employment, housing and public accommodations.
Jen Colletta can be reached at email@example.com.