Posted: March 7, 2013


By Celia Cohen
Grapevine Political Writer

The press releases keep coming. One from Chris Coons, the Democratic senator. Another from Beau Biden, the Democratic attorney general. Still more from a trio of labor unions and from Tom Gordon, New Castle County's Democratic executive.

Also a new round from Coons and Biden, all of them part of a persistent drumbeat of the same message, or maybe more precisely, the same-sex message?

"Equality under the law is a founding principle, but we will not all be equal until everyone has the freedom to choose whom to love and whom to spend their lives with. It is unconstitutional to deny same-sex couples the freedom to marry," one of Biden's press releases read.

This is the alliterative arc that President Obama traced in his second inaugural address, the one from Seneca Falls for women's rights to Selma for civil rights to Stonewall for gay rights.

The clock on gay rights is ticking very fast now, here in Delaware and elsewhere.

Just in the first term of Jack Markell, the Democratic governor, a gay rights bill and civil union bill were signed into law, and now in the opening months of his second term, a same-sex marriage bill is expected to be introduced in the General Assembly this spring.

"We want to be the 10th state -- the 11th if you include the District of Columbia -- to show the basic human decency that comes with offering full marriage equality," Coons said in a press release.

Delaware, the 10th state. Not exactly the usual rallying cry around here, but it will have to do.

When the same-sex marriage bill is formally proposed, it will set up a curious civic footrace between the state legislature in Dover and the Supreme Court in Washington, where the justices have two cases involving same-sex marriage on their docket.

Both the legislature and the court end their session on June 30, so the rush is on for who will decide first, no matter whether it is up or down. History is burning to know.

The push for same-sex marriage here is being run like a sophisticated political campaign, something of a departure from the previous practices associated with movements for equal rights.

No sit-ins have clogged the corridors of Legislative Hall. No bras have been burned for the cause.

Instead, in addition to the press releases, there are endorsements, like one from Markell, as well as fund-raisers, phone banks, door knocking and a consultant or so, a great deal of it coordinated by Equality Delaware, an advocacy group for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender Delawareans.

Naturally there is a poll, too. Released earlier this week by Equality Delaware, it showed a majority of Delawareans in favor of same-sex marriage by 17 points, with 54 percent supportive and 37 percent opposed.

National polls have shown similar results, not counting the Fox News Poll, of course.

Still, there is only one poll that counts. That would be the roll call of the 21 members of the state Senate and 41 members of the state House of Representatives.

Like eggs before they are hatched, votes should never be counted in Legislative Hall before they are cast, but the early analysis, even before a bill is introduced, has passage within reach.

"They're working from the ground up to get their votes. I think they're pretty darn close, if they don't already have them," said Pete Schwartzkopf, the Democratic speaker.

The basis for much of the analysis is the legislature's vote two years ago for the civil union bill, which was adopted 26-15 by the House and 13-6 with two absent in the Senate.

Since then, the House has lost only one of those "yes" votes -- from Nick Manolakos, a Hockessin Republican who was defeated in a 2012 primary.

By contrast, the Senate has lost three critical "yes" votes -- from George Howard Bunting, a Bethany Beach Democrat, and Liane Sorenson, a Hockessin Republican, both of whom retired, and Michael Katz, a Centreville Democrat who was defeated.

Unless at least one of their votes is replaced, it leaves only 10 "yes" votes in the Senate, one short of passage.

As a result, it ratchets up a lingering question about what Cathy Cloutier, the Republican senator from Brandywine Hundred, will do. In a famous vanishing act, she was absent for the roll call on civil unions. There were enough other votes that it did not matter then, but it matters now.

It will be like the marriage scene from "My Fair Lady," political style. Can someone get Cloutier to Legislative Hall on time?