DOVER, Delaware (AP) _ A bill that makes Delaware the eighth state to allow civil unions or domestic partnerships for same-sex couples has cleared the legislature and the governor said Thursday he looks forward to signing the measure into law.
State House of Representatives members debated for about three hours and rejected nine amendments before approving the bill on a 26-to-15 vote, prompting supporters in the balcony erupt in cheers and applause. The Senate last week had approved the bill.
Opponents warned that the bill carries unintended consequences that will result in confusion in family law courts and likely will lead to lawsuits over religious liberties for those opposed to same-sex unions.
``Mark my words, there will be litigation over this,'' said Douglas Napier, an attorney with the Alliance Defense Fund, a conservative religious rights organization.
With Gov. Jack Markell's signature, the bill will take effect Jan. 1. The legislation gives gay couples the same rights and obligations of those who are married. But it makes clear that marriage is between a man and a woman. Five other states and the Washington capital district allow gay marriage.
``I think it's time for this bill to be passed, and it's going to be good for so many Delawareans for years to come,'' said Markell, a Democrat. ``I'm really pleased with it.''
Supporters say the measure provides equal rights for homosexuals in committed relationships.
``We were all created with special, unique, beautiful differences,'' said chief Democratic House sponsor Rep. Melanie George. ``Our government respects those differences.''
Others argue it is a prelude to establishing gay marriage in the small state of about 885,000 people.
``Don't be deceived. This bill is a precursor to same-sex marriage,'' Napier said.
Lawmakers voted mostly along party lines Thursday, with Democrats in favor and Republicans voting for amendments opposed by the bill proponents.