Couples in Colo. seek civil unions at midnight ceremonies

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3min 51sec
(Photos: CPR/Anna Panoka)

At the stroke of midnight, civil unions became the law of the land in Colorado. In Denver and Boulder Counties, clerks’ offices opened their doors just after midnight to start issuing licenses, and there were plenty of people waiting to make their relationships official.

CPR’s Megan Verlee was at the Denver clerk's office for the festivities. Here’s a transcript of her report:

Rachel Duran-Zimmer, Denver Clerk's Office: This is your civil union license and certificate all in one. They cannot be separated or else it becomes void, okay?

Reporter Megan Verlee: Surrounded by a wall of clicking news cameras, longtime civil unions activists Fran and Anna Simon became the first same-sex couple in Denver to get the new license. In the lobby of Denver’s main administrative building, 129 other couples waited to make their legal commitments. They came wearing tuxes and wedding gowns, jeans and tee-shirts, and stood clutching roses and munching on rainbow colored cake. Standing in line with his partner of nearly 40 years, Jim Ridgeway said he was still a bit surprised to be there.

Jim Ridgeway: Thirty-nine years ago, we couldn’t even live together. The zoning was so you couldn’t live in the same house. You couldn’t admit that you were gay. It was a completely different world.

Reporter: Despite the early morning hour, Ridgeway and his partner say it was important to be among the first couples to get licensed.

Ridgeway: Basically just to say thanks to all the people who made this happen. They put a lot of time and a lot of work into it, so we thought we’d just show our appreciation, show up, rather than just come down next Wednesday.

Reporter: It wasn’t just the happy couples celebrating; even the city officials working the overnight shift seemed giddy. Officiating civil unions has extra meaning for Judge Andre Rudolph. As a black man, he sees this as a continuation of the civil rights movement.

Andre Rudolph: Because of the struggle and what people did for me. And to be here to give something back to these folks in their struggle is just a great opportunity.

Reporter: While Denver literally threw open its doors to welcome civil unions, some organizations that call the city home aren’t excited about the change.

Tracy Murphy: We’re still unclear as to precisely how that might affect our services.

Reporter: That’s Tracy Murphy with Catholic Charities of Denver. During the debate over civil unions, the organization warned lawmakers it will likely choose to stop facilitating adoptions, rather than place children with same-sex couples, if that’s what the law requires. Murphy says Catholic Charities is still trying to figure that out.

Murphy: We continue to seek direction from our legal advisory team to better understand any legal implications regarding our services, and we’ll just have to see how it plays out.

Reporter: Even some in the gay community, like University of Denver law professor Kris Miccio, aren’t happy about civil unions.

Kris Miccio: I was watching everyone cheering, and I said to myself, “What are you cheering about? You’re literally cheering about second-class citizenship.”

Reporter: Miccio thinks activists should have held out for full marriage rights. She wishes they’d waited for the US Supreme Court, which could strike down the federal ban on gay marriage this summer. By fighting for civil unions instead, Miccio thinks the movement has armed its opponents.

Miccio: And so legislators can come back and say, “You accepted this. Now you’re coming back to the table again?”

Denver Mayor Michael Hancock, officiating a ceremony: May these rings that you exchange today serve as a public symbol of your union...

Reporter: But back at the Denver clerk’s office, a civil union is enough for Tanya Obernyer and Erin Neville, at least for now.

Tanya Obernyer: Even if it’s not a real marriage, it’s still uniting with my partner here.

Erin Neville: For us, more than the federal rights, the state rights, being a part of this movement, being a part of this amazing experience, we’re going to be talking about this for 20, 30 years.

Reporter: Obernyer and Neville went to home with their civil union license in the early hours of the morning. Same sex couples in other parts of the state can start getting theirs during more normal business hours today.

Members of our Public Insight Network contributed to this story. Learn more about PIN here.