Patrick Malone, Fort Collins Coloradoan
DENVER - Legislation creating legal recognition and protections for couples regardless of gender in Colorado gained final approval Tuesday in the state Legislature.
Last year a similar bill on civil unions for gay couples with support from a handful of GOP representatives appeared poised to pass before leaders in the Republican-controlled House blocked it. In November, Democrats regained control of the House and designated Mark Ferrandino of Denver as Colorado's first openly gay House speaker.
Ferrandino sponsored civil unions legislation that failed each of the past two years and this year's successful version of the bill.
"It's about love. It's about family. It's about equality," he said.
Once the measure is signed, Colorado will join a dozen other states that have civil unions or similar laws.
The incarnation of the bill that passed does not include religious exemptions for adoption organizations that last year's proposal contained.
Opponents seized on that change and said they foresee legal challenges in court to that aspect of the legislation.
The bill passed 39-26 with each Democrat and two Republicans supporting it.
"The time has come," said Rep. Joann Ginal, a Fort Collins, Colo., Democrat who is openly gay. "Please support equality for everyone."
Rep. Cheri Gerou, a Republican from Evergreen, Colo., was one of the Republicans who voted in favor of the bill. She said the GOP missed its chance for compromise on religious exemptions when it blocked the civil unions vote last year.
The bill's approval marks a significant political shift in a western state that traditionally has had deep, conservative roots but has become more moderate in the past decade.
Colorado voters banned gay marriage seven years ago. That means civil unions are the only option in the state, but a U.S. Supreme ruling on gay marriage laws could change that.
Among the default rights that civil unions will extend to gay couples under Colorado law would be medical decisions for partners, hospital and jail visitation privileges, property succession rights through inheritance, joint adoption and provisions for dissolution of a relationship, including division of property and shared responsibility for and visitation of children.
Contributing: The Associated Press
Fort Collins Coloradoan