Delaware became the 11th state to permit gay marriage yesterday when the Senate passed the marriage equality bill 12-9. Gov. Jack Markell immediately signed the bill in front of an enthusiastic crowd on the steps of Legislative Hall.

"We wanted to send a signal to people that they're not going to have to wait any longer," Markell said. "People have been working on this, people have been hoping for this day for decades. The bill was done. A lot of the advocates were here. We wanted to take this special moment to celebrate and sign this along."

Lisa Goodman, president of Equality Delaware, says the passage sends a powerful and positive message about equality.

"Today is a great day for Delaware, to have our government say to our community, to the lesbian and gay citizens in Delaware, that we're going to treat you equally under the law, that your families are going to be recognized as marriage. It's a huge day," Goodman said.

Attorney General Beau Biden, who earlier this year supported marriage equality by signing two briefs filed in the United States Supreme Court, shared his support of the bill.

"This is a historic day for Delaware," Biden said. "Because of today's vote, all Delawareans will be equal under the law and free to choose whom to love and whom to spend their lives with. I would like to congratulate the supporters of the marriage equality legislation who worked extremely hard to get this bill passed."

During the testimony, Senator Karen Peterson spoke openly for the first time about her and her partner's 24-year relationship. She said it just felt like the right moment to come out publicly.

"You get tired of hearing some of these points made over and over that 'this is a choice,'" Peterson said. "You know, I don't know any heterosexual people who made the choice to be heterosexual. Why do you think gay people do? You are who you are and you are who God made you. I'm in my 60s now. I'm to a point in my life where, you know, if you like it, fine; if you don't, that's fine too. I am who I am."

Opponents of the bill argued that it infringed on religious freedoms.  However, the bill's sponsors explained religion is protected under the First Amendment in the Constitution and no church would be required to perform a ceremony that infringes on its religious beliefs.

Additionally, companies that provide marriage-related services to the public are required to provide their services to everyone under Markell's 2009 non-discrimination law which bans businesses from denying service to anyone based on their sexual orientation.

While the bill does not provide same-sex couples with any additional state benefits that they already receive through Civil Unions, it does help couples who may be eligible for federal benefits if the Defense of Marriage Act is overturned.

The law goes into effect July 1.

The bill passage and signing comes almost two years to the day after Governor Markell signed a civil union law into effect.  That bill took isx months to implement before finally becoming law.

After July 1, no civil unions will be preformed once the law is in effect. All current civil unions will be converted to marriages over the next year.