Denver couple ready to celebrate civil union with friends, allies

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DENVER -- Courtney Law and Sonja Semion have been together more than seven years.

They have a successful careers, similar interests, a close group of friends, a nightly routine around the house, three cats and two anniversaries that they already celebrate: January 31, the day they started dating, and April 26, which marks the day of a private commitment ceremony they shared with their families and friends.

In many ways, theirs is a shared life that's not much different from thousands of happy Colorado couples.

"It's seamless now," Semion told me last week at the Park Hill home she and Law bought 18 months ago. "I don't think about myself as being together with a woman; I think about being together with the person I love."

But they're awfully excited about Wednesday, May 1, which will become the couple's third anniversary -- the day these two women will have their relationship, already accepted by so many of their friends and neighbors, officially recognized by the state.

"It's hard to explain how important that is," said Law, who held Semion's hand as the two, seated close together on their living room sofa, spoke about the civil union they'll enter into just after midnight Tuesday, along with dozens of other couples planning to make theirs among the first civil union ceremonies in Colorado history.

"We were together for seven and a half years," Semion said. "For us, this is not going to change our relationship; but the idea of celebrating with everyone else who helped pass the bill, that's really exciting to us."

Semion, an education reform advocate, and Law, a political consultant, both testified in favor of civil unions several times over the past three years; like the other couples who told their stories to lawmakers, they've experienced the heartbreak of the bill's previous failures and, this year with Democrats again controlling both legislative chambers, the jubilation of watching the bill sail through a series of votes and be signed into law last month.

But the legal protections afforded to them because of the new law are just as important -- more so, probably -- than their appreciation for the history they helped make.

"The first thing that is we have legal protections and it is recognized by the state that we are a committed couple," Law said. "We have the ability to take care of each other and be responsible for each other. And we're hoping to start a family very soon; so that civil union will give us that peace of mind that our child will be protected, and our relationship will be protected."

Colorado's civil union law will allow couples to adopt children, inherit property and other survivor benefits for partners, insure one another, take leave from work to care for a partner, and make medical and end-of-life decisions for a partner.

One Colorado, an LGBT advocacy group, has arranged for civil unions to be performed starting at midnight on Wednesday, and the Denver Clerk and Recorder will issue licenses until 3 a.m.

Denver Mayor Michael Hancock, who testified in favor of civil unions legislation, will officiate some of the ceremonies, including Courtney and Sonja's.

"We both volunteered for his campaign," Law said. "He's been a tremendous ally to the LGBT community."

When they first came out to their families and friends, Courtney and Sonja never imagined they'd feel so accepted by the wider community, and by a country that is moving at lightning speed towards support for full marriage equality.

"We're hoping to have a fourth anniversary one day soon," Semion said with a smile.

"Polling shows that Colorado is ready for a conversation about gay marriage," Courtney, ever the political operative, said.

"I'm just proud to live here and excited about sharing my life with Sonja here in this state."