Colorado same-sex civil unions become legal, Denver Mayor Michael Hancock officiates first ceremony

DENVER - Excited same-sex couples celebrated their historic civil unions in Colorado as the ceremonies became legally recognized under state law at midnight Wednesday.

Denver Mayor Michael Hancock officiated the first civil union, uniting Fran and Anna Simon. A swarm of photographers captured the ceremony in the atrium of the Webb Municipal Office Building..

Fran Simon said it was "incredible seeing all of these people here and just the love and support we feel is overwhelming."

Anna Simon said victories like Colorado's civil unions law has encouraged individuals to be open about being gay.

 "People started being who they are and being honest with the people around them," she said. "People started coming out of the closet and that is critically important for any kind of movement."

David Westman and his partner Anthony Aragon were decked out in black tie as they made their 16-year relationship official.

"There's so many friends here, some people we know, and everyone is so excited for us and for each other, it's just a great feeling of love and support," Westman said.

"There will probably be tears, but it's tears of joy and tears of true love," Aragon told Denver's 7NEWS before the ceremony.

A line of couples curled around the building before the doors opened.

Couples talked about how civil unions will give their union new legal rights in Colorado.

 "What happens if one of us is in the hospital? How are we going to visit each other? What if one of us dies?  Who's going to get the house?" Westman asked. Their civil union will give the couple those rights.

Alicia Smith and Lisa Fawcett, partners for 15 years, were the first couple lined up at 2 p.m. -- 10 hours before the ceremonies began in Denver.

"I'm excited," Smith said.

Seven years after voters banned gay marriage in the state constitution, state lawmakers passed a bill granting unmarried couples, both gay and heterosexual, rights similar to marriage, including:

- Transferring property to one another
- Making medical decisions for one another
- Adopting a child together
- Qualifying for health insurance and survivor benefits

Gov. John Hickenlooper signed the bill into law on March 21. It takes effect on May 1.

The historic civil ceremonies are the end result of a political fight that saw some of the state's most conservative lawmakers defy party lines.

"I don't think it's a partisan issue, no.  I think there are a lot of Republicans like myself, who support the idea of equality and it's the right thing to do," former state Rep. BJ Nikkel, a Loveland Republican, told 7NEWS.     

Civil union ceremonies were scheduled to be performed at the Webb Building from 12:01 a.m. to 2 a.m. by local judges, magistrates and qualified religious and lay officiants, according to LGBT advocacy group One Colorado.

Denver Mayor Michael Hancock and Congresswoman Diane DeGette will be among those performing ceremonies, city officials said.

The Boulder County Clerk and Recorder's Office opened its Boulder location at midnight to issue civil union licenses.

"May 1 will be an exciting and historic day for same-sex couples in Boulder County and Colorado," Clerk and Recorder Hillary Hall said. "We're eager to serve local couples who've waited a long time for civil unions to be recognized by the state."

To apply, citizens must be 18 years of age or older, regardless of the gender of either party. Neither person can be a party to another civil union and neither party can be married to another person.

The license fee is $30.

Civil union licenses issued in the State of Colorado must be used within 35 days of issuance in this state only. The document must be certified and returned for recording within 63 days of signing.

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