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Last night, Democratic governor Jack Markell signed into law a bill that provides legal protections and benefits for same-sex couples.

Yeah, it's not full marriage equality (and wasn't drafted to be), but it is progress that guarantees protections and rights to couples in registered civil unions. Protections include hospital visitation rights, property and last will and testament transfers, the ability to live together in nursing homes, joint adoption, and other legal issues.

The law will take effect on January 1st, making Delaware the eighth state to provide legal protections for same-sex couples. More below the fold.

Interestingly, proponents of the bill at Equality Delaware only sought the "easy" win of civil unions bill at this point rather than full marriage equality which would require a repeal of Delaware's statewide version of DOMA.

According to the Wilmington News Journal, the bill flew through the legislative process at a rapid pace, moving from its filing date to final passage on April 14th in less than a month. Support among the legislature was notable, passing the state Senate by a 2 to 1 margin with a 13-6 vote tally. The vote in the House was also pretty overwhelming at 26-15.

At last night's signing ceremony, video messages of support were played by U.S. Senator Chris Coons, U.S. Rep. John Carney, and Wilmington Mayor James M. Baker. (Anyone else note the absence of Tom Carper? I sure do.)

My favorite part of the story: the governor didn't sign the bill at an august statehouse ceremony. When the bill was passed by the legislature, he said he would sign the bill "as soon as a suitable time and place are arranged". Someone made the brilliant decision that suitable in this case would be a champagne celebration at the gorgeously renovated World Cafe Live at the Queen Theater (pun notwithstanding). Over 600 people were in attendance to hear the governor say

"Tonight, we say to children of gay and lesbian parents in committed relationships all over our state -- and there are so many wonderful kids, including many here tonight, growing up in those families all over our state -- we say to you: It doesn't matter if your parents are gay or straight. The people you love and look up to and that are dedicating their lives and love to raising you -- those are your parents.

"You are a family. And while we've known it, and you've known it for years, tonight, that equality becomes real under law."

Nate Silver predicted Delaware would be ready for same-sex marriage by now, and I daresay that it isn't far off. The Milford Beacon newspaper reports that

Equality Delaware released a poll prior to the final vote showing 62 percent of likely Delaware voters support civil unions for same-sex couples, twice the number that oppose civil unions. Poll results showed that more people in all three counties and nearly every demographic--men, women, seniors, residents ages 50 to 64 and younger than 50--favor civil unions than oppose them.

If anyone doubts the governor's sincerity toward the cause of LGBT equality, Equality Delaware reports today on their website that the Jack Markell personally made a special request that the Rainbow Chorale of Delaware perform a choral rendition of "Make Them Hear You" from the musical, Ragtime; he introduced the performance by asking the audience to take special heed of the words of the song, the last verse of which is

Your sword can be a sermon
Or the power of the pen.
Teach every child to raise his voice
And then, my brothers, then
Will justice be demanded
By ten million righteous men.
Make them hear you.
When they hear you,
I'll be near you, again.

Okay, it's an awesome enough song that you should see it if you don't already know it. This version is by the Heartland Mens' Chorus in Kansas City:

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