DENVER — It’s been a long hard fight for members of the gay community and those who support them.
Two decades ago, Colorado became known as the “Hate State” after voters approved Amendment 2, which wrote discrimination against gays into the state Constitution.
On Thursday, Governor John Hickenlooper signed the bill legalizing same-sex civil unions in the state of Colorado, emphatically dotting his final signature and bringing about loud cheers, and some tears, from the few hundred people who stood on the atrium floor and above on the surrounding rafters of the Colorado History Museum.
The museum was chosen as the location for the signing to mark a historic moment in the ongoing fight for civil rights.
“Our country is changing,” Hickenlooper said. “The gay community, the lesbian community, the bisexual and transgender community — they’re all part of our community, part of all of us and there is no reason why we all shouldn’t have the same rights.”
The fight for this particular bill has lasted three years.
The legislation could have passed last May, but former Republican House Speaker Frank McNulty, who opposed the bill, refused to allow a vote on the floor, choosing instead to run out the clock on the entire calendar of bills needing to be passed at the session’s end in order to prevent a final vote.
Last November, Democrats swept competitive statehouse races and took back a House Majority. They went on to elect the sponsor of the civil unions measure, Rep. Mark Ferrandino, D-Denver, Speaker of the House, making him the first openly gay lawmaker to serve in that position.
“I always said it was a matter of if, not when,” Ferrandino said. “We thought it was going to be last year. But this year is now the when.”
Ferrandino and his partner, Greg Wertsch, plan to get a civil union, as do seven of the eight openly gay state lawmakers.
Sen. Pat Steadman, D-Denver, the bill’s other prime sponsor and a long-time champion for equality in Colorado, lost his partner of 11 years, Dave Misner, to cancer last summer.
Just as they did last week when the bill passed the full House on a 39-26 vote, the eight openly gay lawmakers on stage for the bill signing reflected on the decades-long fight for equality – recounting everything from New York’s 1969 Stonewall Riots to the 1978 assassination of openly gay San Francisco Assemblyman Harvey Milk to the 1998 murder of Matthew Shepard less than 150 miles north of Denver.
“We’re achieving a significant milestone today,” Steadman said. “But our fight for full equality goes on.
“We today are remedying an exclusion that has gone on for too long. With his signature today, Gov Hickenlooper will make sure that lesbians and gays are no longer strangers to this state’s laws.”