Delaware Civil Unions a Non-Event

Fred Clark makes a telling point about about the Delaware legislature’s vote to establish civil unions.

What was remarkable was how big a deal this wasn’t. On the one hand, Equality Delaware is right to describe this vote as “historic” — the state took a big step toward legal equality for a group to whom that equality was previously denied. In that sense this is, as Delawarean Joe Biden would say, a big freakin’ deal.

But the general mood and prevailing response was that it’s 2011 and this step is long overdue, so let’s just get it done already. Gov. Markell’s general tone has been that of course this should be passed and signed, so let’s not dawdle over such a no-big-deal no-brainer. If opponents weren’t able to articulate a coherent argument for their opposition, he wasn’t going to waste any time trying to engage that lack of an argument.

A rally in opposition to the measure last week was sparsely attended by a crowd that showed little of the histrionic enthusiasm we saw back in 2004. The Republican leader in Delaware’s House dutifully opposed the bill, but:

… said he did not see the bill’s passage as a great loss or as a threat to society, as some opponents had warned

“This is democracy in action,” he said. “Sometimes you win; sometimes you lose.”

When the losing side is yawning, you know you’ve won for good.

About J@m3z Aitch

J@m3z Aitch is a two-bit college professor who'd rather be canoeing.
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9 Responses to Delaware Civil Unions a Non-Event

  1. When Illinois’s legislature passed a civil union law a few months ago, it was, too, not much of a “big” issue, although there were some political voices against it (and one can bet that had Pat Quinn, the Democrat, not won the governorship, the other guy would have vetoed the bill).

    Sadly, of course, it’s not full equality, and maybe in some ways it staves off full equality by making full-blown marriages more difficult–opponents can say “see, you already got a law, why do you need more?”–but it’s still encouraging.

  2. Dr X says:

    Pierre, I was also struck by the relative quiet surrounding the passage of this bill. There was some grumbling, but a clear majority of Illinois citizens support civil unions (though not gay marriage), and quite a few, while not supporting civil unions, don’t see civil unions as a big threat.

    You’re certainly correct that Brady would have vetoed the bill. I would also note that Brady, lost to Quinn in spite of Quinn’s very so-so standing with the public and the bigger drag exerted by the whole Blagojevich mess. I think Brady was too much of an ideologue for Illinois voters. In fact, the race for the Republican nomination was very close. Brady only narrowly defeated a far more moderate Republican (Kirk Dillard) who had actually endorsed Obama for President. I think Dillard would have beaten Quinn and Dillard would have signed the civil unions legislation.

    Brady did as well as he did in the general election because people were so disgusted with Blago, just as Blago was aided by disgust with Ryan before him. And had any of the three previous Republican governors–Ryan, Edgar or Thompson–been in office, I think they’d have signed the bill as well.

  3. Dr X says:

    I also thought that recent reaction to a bill that abolished the death penalty was quite restrained.

  4. Dr. X,

    Agreed on (almost) all counts, including your observations about the abolition of the death penalty here. I do wonder if Brady might not have had more support in Illinois than you give him credit for; however, I’ve lived here only a few years and am by no means an expert.

    For what it’s worth, and in support of what you say, I was so afraid of a Brady governorship that I abandoned my plans to throw my vote away on Whitney and voted for Mr. Quinn.

  5. James Hanley says:

    Dr. X and Pierre,

    In Fred Clark’s article, he quotes some opponents of the Delaware bill who argued that civil unions just opened the door for marriage. Cark’s comment: “Supporters see that as a feature, not a bug.”

    I think he’s right, and that supporters are right to see it so. A few years back I saw civil unions as a second-best compromise, an “if that’s all that can be gained, it’s at least better than nothing.” But now I see them–I think more correctly–as a strategic step forward that paves the way for the final step. The public’s opposition to gay rights has waned so much already, and the word marriage has become just a symbolic hurdle. Once people in Delaware and Illinois get accustomed to civil unions and see (as they, in their hearts, already know) that the sky won’t fall, the last step will be made with relatively little controversy, and that will be short-lived.

    I pointed out to my students last week how civil rights issues differ from the issue of abortion. 38 years after Roe v. Wade, the abortion debate has settled into a stalemate, with neither side able to significantly shift the distribution of public opinion on the issue. But like legal equality for women and ethnic minorities, legal equality for gay people has seen a fairly steady, if slow, shift in public opinion, both intra-generationally and inter-generationally. Unlike abortion, where people rarely change their own opinion much and where younger generations don’t differ too much from older generations, on gay rights there’s been change both within particular generational cohorts (like folks my age, who would overwhelmingly have been opposed to SSM 25 years ago, but are roughly evenly split now) and a big shift between older and younger generations.

    I liken the strategy of gaining civil unions to the SPLC’s strategy of integrating professional schools before colleges, and colleges before K-12. Each step then was irreversible. So far, only once has a step forward toward SSM been reversed (with California’s Prop 8), and that reversal probably won’t hold.

  6. Lance says:

    I don’t think the government should be sanctioning and incentivizing (if that’s a word) personal unions of any kind. This of course would include heterosexual marriages.

    Traditionally the reason given for government endorsement and incentives for marriage is that a marriage provides a stable financial arrangement that promotes child rearing and thus reduces the chances that the children will become liabilities, both financial and social, to the state.

    Given the easy access to divorce and the high number of out of wedlock births I doubt that such a case can be made on the empirical evidence.

  7. Pingback: And Now Delaware - Big Tent Revue

  8. Matty says:


    I have some sympathies with your position but there is a case for government to recognise such unions. This is best put by Jason Kuzinicki. the whole thing is worth reading but to pull out a relevant part.

    The government has an obligation to respect our determinations about who should make medical, legal, and financial choices for us when we are incapacitated; about how we wish to dispose of our property on death; and about our decision to share childrearing responsibilities.
    The government ought not to compel the separation of nurturing partners merely because one is a foreign national; the citizen in the relationship must be expected to help the alien adapt to our culture. It is doubtful any other could be more competent here.
    The government ought not to demand testimony from one nurturing partner against another; having developed (or at least promised) the lifelong habit of supporting one’s partner, impartial testimony cannot be expected.
    The government ought to institute a formal process for registering a nurturing relationship, if only so that the above rights may be unambiguously secured. This should ideally be an act distinct from the various religious rites of marriage.
    The government ought to institute a formal process for ending a nurturing relationship; while marriage for life is generally recognized as the ideal, some mechanism should exist for those who have determined that they will never reach the ideal owing to insuperable obstacles.

  9. Lance says:

    Good points Matty. I haven’t researched all of these associated issues.

    At first blush most seem to be issues that could be resolved using other legal instruments such as wills and personal contracts between parties.

    The issue of not being compelled to testify against a person that you have formed a “nurturing” partnership seems to be special pleading. Close friends, associates, and family members enjoy no such protection under the law so I wonder why it should be granted to “partners”.

    But, as I said, these are issues that I had not considered and certainly don’t think they can be dismissed lightly.

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