The Colorado state House voted Tuesday to allow same sex couples to form civil unions under state law, 39 to 26. According to, the law is headed to Democratic Gov. John Hickenlooper's desk, in spite of Republican protests that the law will end up in court.

All 37 Democrats in the House and 2 Republicans voted in favor of the bill, and managed to fend off Republican attempts to amend the bill or send it to voters to decide. The Colorado House and Senate have been debating the issue of civil unions for same sex couples for the past three years. Senate Bill 11, which would make same sex civil unions legal in Colorado, cleared the state senate in February.

Democratic Speaker of the House Mark Ferrandino of Denver, who is gay, said that legalizing civil unions in the state is a question of fairness and equality under the law.

"We should make laws that are just for everyone," he said. "This wasn't a choice. This is who I am. This is who we are. We need to make laws in our society that respect everyone equally."

Rep. Pete Lee (D-Colorado Springs) said that Tuesday's date will go down in civil rights history, much like recognition of Martin Luther King, Jr.'s birthday. "This is an historic moment," he said.

Rep. Dominick Moreno (D-Commerce City) thanked the House for their vote on behalf of himself and the four other House members who are LGBT.

Republicans fought the bill on the grounds that it does not contain an exemption for employers or providers who do not wish to recognize same sex unions on religious grounds.

"History tells us that societies that do not respect the freedom of conscience will not long endure," said Rep. Bob Gardner, R-Colorado Springs.

Supporters of the bill argued that a religious exception would simply leave the door open for continued discrimination.

Gay legislator Rep. Paul Rosenthal (D-Denver) said, "There are countries like Uganda that is considering a death plenty for gays, like Iran that have executed gays. Let's send a message today that we love all of our citizens, appreciate all of our citizens, and we will treat them equal under the law."

In 2006, Colorado voters passed Amendment 43, the Definition of Marriage Act, which said, "Only a union of one man and one woman shall be valid or recognized as a marriage in this state." As a result, civil unions are the only route currently available for same sex couples seeking to heave their relationships recognized by the state.

Gov. Hickenlooper is expected to sign the bill into law, which will go into effect May 1.

[image via lev radin /]