Photos: John Hickenlooper signs Colorado Civil Unions Act into law

It's only fitting that the acme of Governor John Hickenlooper's recent political responsibilities came in a building called History Colorado. On Thursday, before a crowd of hundreds lining railings three stories up and jostling for a view, Hickenlooper signed the Colorado Civil Unions Act into law.

Below, see photos and a video from the signing ceremony, along with details about a legislative achievement that's been a long time coming.

Hickenlooper has dealt with groundswell of public opinion on controversial issues, including the recently-passed gun laws. But as he prepared to sign the bill into Colorado law, it was clear that this issue took on highly emotional tones, as people shed tears of both joy and sadness.

Senator Pat Steadman, whose partner passed away late last year from pancreatic cancer, opened the event by thanking his fellow co-sponsors of the bill -- Senator Lucía Guzmán and representatives Mark Ferrandino and Sue Shafer -- as well as members of the public present to witness the historic event. "Together, all of us, everyone in this room, has done so much work, not just this year, not just last year, but over the course of our lives, to bring our movement to this point where we are about to witness real inclusion into Colorado society, and we have a lot to be thankful for," Steadman said. When Hickenlooper took the microphone, he opened with an anecdote about his earlier days at the Wynkoop Brewery in an effort to demonstrate just how far the state has come since the early 1990s, when the passage of Amendment 2, a measure that precluded "special rights" for gays and lesbians, led to Colorado being branded the "hate state."

The brewery had just promoted a gay bartender to the position of general manager, Hickenlooper recalled, and that didn't sit well with some people.

"A couple customers came up and they wanted to see the owner, and I thought they were going compliment us [on] what a great job he's doing," he noted. "And, of course, they said they weren't going to come to our business anymore. A waitress was standing beside me, and she says, 'You know, that's not going to bother any of us at all.'"

Continue for more about yesterday's signing ceremony, including photos and a video. Hickenlooper went on to talk about the changing attitudes in the state: a greater respect for individuality and increasing awareness about the rights that each person should be afforded.

He saluted "all the different organizations that have both politically and in the community leaned in to demonstrate that the gay and lesbian, the transgender, the bisexual community, is part of all of us," adding, "IIt's part of our community, it's part of our lives, our friends, our families, that there is no excuse that people shouldn't have the same rights."

The passage of the civil unions bill makes Colorado the ninth state to enact similar laws. Steadman acknowledged that while the bill isn't perfect -- it's not marriage, he emphasized -- it's a strong step in the direction of bringing absolutely equal rights to everyone in Colorado.

Ferrandino, speaking last, echoed Steadman's sentiments, thanking his husband Greg for his support, and talking about exactly why the bill passage meant so much to him.

"Now that we have a daughter, this issue has become even more personal," he said. "It was personal before, but now, looking at my daughter's face when I wake up and I go and take her out of her crib, and see that smiling face, to know that after the governor signs this, that she's going to have the protections just like everyone other family, it makes my heart warm."

William Kalim, a Denver resident, summed up the afternoon perfectly: "I came because I'm a gay male, so if me and my partner want to get married, we'll have the same equal rights as everyone else. It's just a stepping stone, but it's a huge stepping stone."

Here's a video from the ceremony courtesy of Daniel Gonzales.

More from our Photos archive: "Photos: Ten famous same-sex couples who've tied the knot."

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