Civil unions bill on way to governor's desk, One Colorado plans celebration event

It's been a long time coming. After a bill to legalize civil unions in Colorado fell short in both 2011 and last year, the measure finally passed the Colorado House today.

Next, the legislation heads to the desk of Governor John Hickenlooper, who's promised to sign it.

This breakthrough delights Brad Clark, executive director of One Colorado, whose advocacy organization has been instrumental in keeping the civil unions fight in the state alive. And the group has already scheduled a celebration soiree.

"Without a doubt, it's exciting," notes Clark about the bill's approval. "Couples have waited ten, twenty, sometimes forty years for this moment. So it's very exciting to see their relationship and their commitment finally recognized."

The key to victory was the November election, when Democrats regained control of the Colorado House. During the past two years, the state senate passed the measures, but the Republican-controlled House guaranteed that they got no further.

The political turnaround accomplished this session with the help of gay legislators such as bill co-sponsor Senator Pat Steadman and House speaker Representative Mark Ferrandino is "entirely satisfying," concedes Clark, who pays special tribute to "committed gay and lesbian couples for their hard work, their willingness to be open about their lives, their courage in coming to the legislature year after year to talk about their lives and their families. That's really the greatest victory."

Not that he views civil unions as the end of the road. "Certainly this is a huge step, and our courageous legislature did a very big thing today," he stresses. "But there's no mistaking the fact that for gay and lesbian couples here and across the country, this is not marriage."

Will One Colorado push full marriage-equality legislation, perhaps as early as the 2014 legislative session? Clark says it's too soon to know where the organization will head next. "Right now, we'll definitely be celebrating and enjoying this great victory, and really focusing on May 1, when these couples will be having their relationships recognized."

Clark's reference is specific as well as general. One Colorado is sponsoring The Civil Soiree on April 30 at the McNichols Building Civic Center. "We'll be having a dinner and dessert reception," he says. "And then couples will be able to go across the street and get their civil unions. The clerk and recorder's office has agreed to open at midnight, so people can start as soon as they can."

For more information about the event, which will feature an appearance by Denver mayor Michael Hancock, click here. In the meantime, look below to see a Human Rights Campaign release providing more details about the passage of the civil unions bill, followed by a video of Clark and colleague Jace Woodrum talking about the issue prior to the 2012 legislative session.

The HTC release:

Civil Unions Bill in Colorado Headed to Gov. for Signature

Colorado becomes eighteenth state to offer comprehensive benefits and obligations to same-sex couples

WASHINGTON -- Today the Human Rights Campaign (HRC), the nation's largest lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender civil rights organization, commended the Colorado General Assembly for passing the Colorado Civil Union Act, which provides gay and straight couples the legal benefits, protections, and responsibilities that are granted to married spouses under Colorado state law.

"The Colorado legislature has taken a definitive step forward in the march toward equality," said HRC President Chad Griffin. "The passage of civil unions in the Centennial State is further proof that full equality for committed and loving gay and lesbian couples is in sight. From now on LGBT couples in Colorado will no longer be legal strangers in the eyes of their state, but rather recognized and supported by the law."

Sponsored by Sens. Pat Steadman and Lucia Guzman in the Senate, and Speaker Mark Ferrandino and Rep. Sue Schafer in the House of Representatives, the bill passed the senate last month 21-14, and today 39-26 in the house. Advocates at One Colorado worked tirelessly to secure passage of this bill. Gov. John Hickenlooper, a vocal supporter of the legislation, is expected to sign the bill into law immediately and couples will be able to apply for a civil union license beginning on May 1.

Colorado becomes the eighteenth state - plus Washington, DC - to offer comprehensive benefits and obligations to same-sex couples. Nine states (Connecticut, Iowa, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New York, Vermont and Washington) and Washington, DC issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples. And as of May 1, nine states (California, Colorado, Delaware, Hawaii, Illinois, Nevada, New Jersey, Oregon, and Rhode Island) provide the equivalent of state-level spousal rights to same-sex couples within the state.

The Human Rights Campaign is America's largest civil rights organization working to achieve lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender equality. By inspiring and engaging all Americans, HRC strives to end discrimination against LGBT citizens and realize a nation that achieves fundamental fairness and equality for all.

More from our Politics archive: "Defense of Marriage Act ruling shows courts rejecting marriage inequality, activist says."

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