At midnight on May 1, Colorado's civil union law took effect, and same-sex couples around the state marked the moment with celebration, tears, and state-sanctioned relationship recognition.
In Denver and Boulder, county clerks opened their offices at midnight to welcome couples eager to take advantage of the new law, which offers many of the protections of marriage — including adoption, inheritance, and visitation rights — to any two unrelated adults who wish to enter into a civil union.
More than 100 LGBT couples filled the Wellington Webb Building in downtown Denver early Wednesday morning, applying for civil union licenses throughout the day, reports statewide equality organization One Colorado.
Denver mayor Michael Hancock officiated the state's first civil union, which took place between Fran and Anna Simon, with the couple's 5-year-old son, Jeremy, at their side. Fran and Anna both wore white wedding dresses, the same gowns the couple wore for their religious ceremony eight years ago.
"We look forward to the day we can wear them a third time when we, and all loving, committed couples, have the freedom to marry," Fran told The Advocate. "Hopefully, the gowns will still fit!"
The Simons have been active in the long fight to establish relationship recognition for gay and lesbian couples in Colorado; voters approved a constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage in 2006, and civil unions legislation was introduced in three consecutive sessions before it finally passed the legislature earlier this year. Gov. John Hickenlooper, a Democrat, signed the bill into law March 21.
"We have been waiting 10 years to have access to critical legal protections that will help protect our family," Fran told The Advocate. "Many other couples have waited much longer. We are deeply grateful to our lawmakers for their courage and leadership and to all of the people who worked tirelessly to make this day possible. We are so glad to finally have these protections and to have our family recognized under Colorado law."
One Colorado hosted a dinner and reception called "The Civil Soiree" Tuesday night, marking the final hours of a Colorado without civil unions. At midnight attendees joined the already-growing line outside the Webb building of couples eager to get unionized.
“Today, thousands of couples across Colorado have finally been provided with the protections they need to take care of each other and their families," said One Colorado executive director Brad Clark in a statement. "No longer does their state ask them to live as strangers in the eyes of the law. This recognition of our families is a critical step forward — one that deserves celebration."
One Colorado plans to host similar civil union celebrations in Grand Junction and Colorado Springs tonight, but Clark stresses that the fight for equality is far from over.
"Simply recognizing Colorado families is not enough," said Clark. "Couples here in our state need the full protection of marriage and the dignity that comes with it. We know the lifelong promise that each of us hopes to make to the one we love, and it’s not called civil unions. It’s called marriage."
Colorado is the eighth state to enact civil unions or similar legislation for same-sex couples. Nine states and the District of Columbia have marriage equality.
Find more photos from the midnight celebration in Denver on the following pages.
People queue for a chance to be issued a civil union license at a midnight ceremony in the Denver Office of the Clerk and Recorder at the Wellington E. Webb Municipal Office Building on May 1.