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DENVER—Gov. John Hickenlooper (D-Colorado) came out in direct support of gay marriage Monday with the announcement of a new campaign called "Why Marriage Matters Colorado."

In juxtaposition to Hickenlooper's support for civil unions, which he prominently announced as a legislative priority in his 2012 State of the State address, Hickenlooper's first public comment as Governor in support of same-sex marriage came in the form of a written statement toward the bottom of a press release from LGBT group One Colorado announcing the new legalization effort:

Governor John Hickenlooper: "We have advocated for equal rights for all Coloradans and we will continue to advocate for equal rights for all Coloradans. Last year, Colorado took a historic step forward when we passed bipartisan legislation recognizing civil unions. If all men and women truly have the inalienable right to pursue happiness, and if all people are created equal, then by extension of law, logic, and love, every adult couple should also have the freedom to join in marriage."

Prior to this statement, Hickenlooper's position has been that same-sex couples should be afforded all of the same legal rights as heterosexual couples, but he has not advocated for using the word "marriage" to describe these relationships. In his efforts to legalize civil unions and domestic partnerships, he prominently stressed the contrast between the rights those polices would confer and the word marriage, even running an ad on that topic.

More recently, the Governor stressed that civil unions were not about changing the state's constitutional definition of marriage.

When asked what accounts for the change in Hickenlooper's public stance on same-sex marriage, the governor's spokesman Eric Brown told 9NEWS, "the quote in the press release speaks for itself."

While several gay rights activists tell 9NEWS they've known for some time that Hickenlooper was "supportive" of same-sex marriage, 9NEWS cannot find a prior public statement from the Governor to that effect. As of the publishing of this story, the governor's office has not replied to our requests for a prior public comment or statement in support of same-sex marriage.

Critics take issue with the Governor's subtle method of announcing his stance.

"This is totally [Hickenlooper's] M.O.," said Kelly Maher with the conservative group Compass Colorado. "The guy is totally incapable of just standing up and saying 'this is what I believe.' He gets away with it all the time."

However, if actions speak louder than words, the governor's recent actions have certainly shown comfort with same-sex marriages. Hickenlooper signed a bill into law this year that will enable same-sex couples to file joint Colorado tax returns if they marry in other states.

"Gov. John Hickenlooper's support for gay and lesbian families is no secret," said Dave Montez, who heads the group One Colorado, which published the press release. "He has long been a supporter of equal protection for all families."

Looking back further, Hickenlooper did proclaim a marriage equality day in 2009 in response to a request from a 3rd grader when he was Mayor of Denver, though the mayor did not appear in person to deliver the proclamation.

Despite a lengthy record of championing the advancement of gay rights, Hickenlooper took a pass on the question of same-sex marriage as recently as last March when he was asked directly for his position by the Daily Beast.

"When asked if Hickenlooper thinks the law should be changed, [Spokesman Eric] Brown said that due to the ban, same-sex marriage was 'not a pending issue in Colorado nor do I expect it to be any time soon,' and he said the governor was unavailable to comment on his personal opinion on same-sex marriage."

This new public statement in support of same-sex marriage puts him more in line with the mainstream of his political party. President Barack Obama famously made it known in 2012 that his position on the issue had gone through an "evolution."

The Governor's statement comes a little less than two weeks after nine gay couples filed a lawsuit against Hickenlooper (as the state's chief executive) challenging the state's voter-enacted ban on same-sex marriage.

The lawsuit, filed Feb. 19 in Denver County District Court, asserts that "same-sex couples in Colorado are relegated to a second-class level of citizenship that denies their relationships the full panoply of rights enjoyed by married opposite-sex couples."

Groups including the LGBT advocacy group One Colorado, ACLU of Colorado, and Freedom to Marry are at the forefront of the campaign Hickenlooper endorsed, which according to the news release "centers on the core principle that all loving, committed couples should have the freedom to marry in the state that they call home."

Colorado is one of 33 states that prohibits same-sex marriage by law according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. Of those states, Colorado is among three that allow civil unions or domestic partnerships. 17 states and the District of Columbia recognize same-sex marriages.

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