DENVER - Gays, lesbians and their allies celebrated a long-sought victory Thursday when Gov. John Hickenlooper signed into law the civil-unions act, giving same-sex couples most of the rights of married people under state law.
Sen. Pat Steadman, D-Denver, sponsor of the bill, addressed a raucous crowd of hundreds at the History Colorado Center, beginning his remarks with the words, "Dearly beloved."
And yet, Steadman said, the new law stops short of full marriage, both in the symbolic use of the word and the hundreds of benefits under federal law that married couples have.
"We are achieving a significant milestone today, and yet we know this is not the final resolution," he said.
Hickenlooper said the state's new history museum was an appropriate place for the ceremony because it is a historic law.
"It is a moment that the whole community has waited for for so long. And, really, it's the beginning of the whole country changing. Change is going to keep going. It's not going to stop in Colorado," Hickenlooper said.
Actually, it's more like the middle than the beginning of change on a national scale. With Hickenlooper's signature, Colorado became the 19th state, plus the District of Columbia, to recognize either civil unions or marriage for same-sex couples.
Another sponsor, Speaker of the House Mark Ferrandino, D-Denver, thanked the half-dozen Republicans - including Durango Sen. Ellen Roberts - who supported his bill through the last three years.
Most Republicans in the Legislature voted against the bill this year. Arguments centered on the lack of a "conscience clause" for people to refuse service at businesses or religious nonprofits to same-sex couples because of moral objections to homosexuality.
Democrats brushed aside Republican attempts to send the bill to voters for approval.
It was just six years ago when Colorado voters rejected domestic partnerships - similar to but weaker than civil unions - and added a ban on same-sex marriage to the state constitution.
And it was a little more than 20 years ago that Colorado voters adopted Amendment 2, which banned laws protecting gays from discrimination. The U.S. Supreme Court later overturned the law.
Steadman said he was there that election night with Amendment 2 opponents.
"That was a very tragic moment, and yet it gave us so much hope and so much momentum moving forward because we didn't take that defeat sitting down. We went on the streets, and we went to court," Steadman said. "Because of the work that followed that loss, incredible progress was made."
Since 2006, the Legislature has passed several anti-discrimination statutes and made it easier for same-sex couples to adopt children and inherit each other's property. Steadman and his allies saw the culmination of their work Thursday.
As Hickenlooper began signing the bill, using 12 commemorative pens, a man in the crowd shouted, "It's happening!"
With the governor's signature, the Legislature now has done about all it can do for same-sex couples. Only voters or the courts can take the final step of legalizing same-sex marriage.