The First State Again?
On June 17, state legislators, LGBTQ community members, and disability rights advocates gathered outside Legislative Hall in Dover for a special announcement. House Majority Leader Valerie Longhurst announced the introduction of House Bill 199, for which she is the lead sponsor. She was joined by several co-sponsors of the bill including Speaker of the House Peter C. Schwartzkopf, Senators Marie Pinkney and Sara McBride, and Representative Eric Morrison.
HB199 is the first step towards a constitutional amendment to add sexual orientation, gender identity, and disability to Article I, §21 of the Delaware Constitution to declare explicitly that protection against discrimination based on sexual orientation, gender identity, and disability is one of Delaware's fundamental rights. Delaware previously amended the state constitution to prohibit the denial or abridgement of equal rights under the law based on sex in 2019. In 2020, race, color, and national origin were also added.
If passed, Delaware would make history by becoming the first state to include sexual orientation or gender identity in its state constitution. Delaware would join Britain, Bolivia, Ecuador, Fiji, and Malta, countries that explicitly offer equal constitutional rights to LGBTQ individuals.
HB199 currently has 31 sponsors, which is a strong showing. It will be taken up in the next legislative session. As a proposed change to the state constitution, it will need to be passed by two successive general assemblies.
CAMP Rehoboth staff and board members were honored to attend the event. Two young people who participate in our CAMP Rehoboth Youth Up! program, Edward Christopher and JaLynn, spoke at the event, about the impact HB199 would have on them.
Also speaking at the event were Mark Purpura and Lisa Goodman from Equality Delaware.
Mark recently emphasized the importance of adding state constitutional protections. “Our current legal protections against discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity are piecemeal and address actions of the state government mainly through a Governor’s Executive Order.”
A new governor could potentially reverse the executive order. A state constitutional amendment would, therefore, offer more permanent and tangible protections for government services including Medicaid and Medicare, an important issue for transgender and nonbinary individuals seeking gender affirming care.
“A state constitutional amendment would also make it much more difficult for any future general assembly or governor to enact a law that is discriminatory against LGBTQ people or people with disabilities,” Mark added. “The constitutional amendment would likely at least place a heightened standard of review on any such law.”
Mark also said that even though the legislative session is closed, there is never a bad time to learn more about where your state senator and representative stand on this issue. If you would like to see a complete list of cosponsors or track the progress of this legislation you can do so at legis.delaware.gov. ▼
David Mariner is executive director of CAMP Rehoboth.