The Colorado House of Representatives voted 39-26 today to approve legislation that would permit civil unions for same-sex couples, all but assuring gay couples in Colorado will be able to enjoy key benefits as early as this spring.
Sponsored by out Speaker Mark Ferrandino (D) and Rep. Sue Schafer (D) in the House, the bill was approved by a 21-14 vote in the Colorado Senate last month. Although advocates have criticized civil unions as separate and unequal to full marriage equality, the legislative win was still a major victory for advocates.
Gov. John Hickenlooper (D) has vowed to sign the bill into law as soon as it reaches his desk, allowing same-sex couples to begin applying for civil-union licenses on May 1. Two House Republicans joined in voting for the legislation.
"This bill is about three simple things," Ferrandino said during a more than four-hour debate of the bill yesterday, according to The Denver Post. "It's about love, it's about family, and it's about equality under the law."
Ferrandino, the state's first out House speaker, added, "I fully support full equality, which means marriage for gay and lesbian couples. But until the voters say otherwise, civil unions is the closest we can do as a General Assembly to make sure that all families are provided protections under the law."
In 2006, Colorado voters approved a constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage.
According to Chuck Wolfe, president and CEO of the Gay & Lesbian Victory Fund, the increase in gay and lesbian lawmakers from four to eight this year contributed to today's victory. "We are proud that this debate was led by Colorado's openly LGBT lawmakers and their allies," Wolfe said in a statement. "Having a place at the table really matters."
Yesterday's debate of the bill in the House was a historic first and comes after the former speaker, a Republican, refused to bring the bill to the House floor last year. According to Human Rights Campaign President Chad Griffin today's vote was a "definitive step forward in the march toward equality."
"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," Griffin said in a statement.
Colorado Rep. Jared Polis (D), one of only seven out LGB members of Congress, applauded today's passage of the bill as key to bringing full equality to the Centennial State.
"This is an important victory for Colorado and for the gay and lesbian community," Polis said in a statement. "This is a monumental step on the road to equality in Colorado."
[Photo: Colorado House vote on civil unions bill (Courtesy of @MarkFerrandino/Twitter)]