In a sharp turnaround, Colorado will formally approve civil unions for gay and lesbian couples, years after voters banned same-sex marriage in 2006.
Gov. John Hickenlooper will sign the measure Thursday afternoon at a ceremony near the state Capitol. It easily sailed through the Legislature, controlled by Democrats, after years of fierce fighting when Republicans ran the lawmaking body.
Hickenlooper’s signature had been expected. Last May, Republicans who controlled the House by one vote prevented debate on the bill. Democrats took control of the House in November and retained the Senate.
When the law goes into effect May 1, Colorado will join eight states that have civil unions or similar laws. Nine states and the District of Columbia allow gay marriage.
In less than a week the U.S. Supreme Court is scheduled to hear a pair of cases involving same-sex marriage. It will be asked to decide the constitutionality on the Defense of Marriage Act, which defines marriage as being between one man and one woman. The other case involves California’s Proposition 8, which overturned a state Supreme Court ruling that same-sex couples have a constitutional right to marry.
According to recent polls, U.S. society has been moving away from a condemnatory view of gay rights. The change is being fueled by younger voters and their growing acceptance of gay rights.
A Washington Post/ABC News survey released this week found that 58% of Americans believe it should be legal for gay couples to marry, while 36% said they were opposed.
Among voters 18 to 29 years old, 81% support legalizing gay marriage and 15% oppose it.
In Colorado, the bill faced opposition from religiously affiliated adoption groups that argued that civil unions could conflict with their policies in placing children.
Among those expected to attend the signing is a key sponsor, state Rep. Mark Ferrandino (D-Denver), who is also the speaker of the House. He is the first openly gay lawmaker to serve in that role.
Ferrandino has already announced that he and his partner, Greg Wertsch, plan to obtain a civil union.
Sen. Pat Steadman (D-Denver), the bill’s other prime sponsor and a longtime activist for same-sex equality in Colorado, lost his partner of 11 years, Dave Misner, to cancer last summer.
“We’ve worked on this for two decades,” Steadman recently told reporters. “Today is the high point in that struggle. But we’re not there yet. We want to see marriage equality. We believe justice will continue to roll and continue to move forward.”