DENVER - Civil unions for gay couples has been signed into law in Colorado.
Democratic Gov. John Hickenlooper signed the bill as dozens of gay couples looked on and cheered during a ceremony Thursday near the state Capitol.
Colorado voters banned same-sex marriage in 2006 and restricted protections for gays 21 years ago.
The law takes effect May 1.
9NEWS was given a first look at the civil-union certificate and forms released by the Colorado State Health Department. The forms will be given to county clerks administering the civil unions beginning late spring.
VIEW THE CIVIL UNIONS CERTIFICATE AND APPLICATION
Colorado will join eight states and the District of Columbia who allow either gay marriage or civil unions.
Civil unions grant gay couples rights similar to marriage, including enhanced inheritance and parental rights. People in civil unions also would have the ability to make medical decisions for their partners.
Republicans opposed the bill, saying they would've liked to see religious exemptions to provide legal protections for those opposed to civil unions.
Last May, Democrats said they had enough votes to pass the bill. But Republicans who controlled the House by one vote prevented debate on the bill.
Democrats took control of the House in November and retained the Senate.
Some Republicans insist the bill is too similar to marriage, and therefore violates the will of voters in 2006.
"Even though it was specifically told to us that it wasn't about marriage, I think both sides know that it is what it is about," said Republican Rep. Lori Saine, speaking against the bill before a final vote last year.
Democratic Sen. Pat Steadman, also a gay lawmaker who sponsored the bill, said public support has grown for civil unions because the issues same-sex couples are the same as all families.
"The issues at hand are ones that families all across the state know all too well," he said.
(KUSA-TV © 2013 Multimedia Holdings Corporation with The Associated Press)