Colorado Governor John Hickenlooper this week signed a civil union bill into law in the US state, giving gay and lesbian couples many of the same benefits extended to heterosexual spouses.

Colorado House Speaker Mark Ferrandino, a gay Democrat who backed the bill, said Colorado’s laws will now extend equally to all.

“Thousands of Colorado families will now be able to receive the recognition they deserve,” he said.

“Ladies and gentlemen, the Colorado sun now warms all our people.”

Executive director of rights group One Colorado Brad Clark released a statement saying same-sex couples had been waiting for 10, 20, and sometimes even 40 years to have access to critical legal protections in Colorado.

“This historic victory belongs to the thousands of loving, committed couples across the state who have worked tirelessly for years to make it possible for their families, and all families, to have these important legal safeguards,” he said.

“For them, this moment was long overdue. But today, we also know that our work is not yet finished; our journey to full equality is not complete. Like so many others here in Colorado and across the country, I grew up with the hope of one day falling in love and making a lifelong promise to the one I love. We know that this promise is called marriage — not civil unions.

“While our state has an amendment from 2006 that prohibits same-sex couples from marrying, in the time that has passed, Colorado voters have shown they are ready for a conversation about the freedom to marry.”

Clark said polls show that a majority of Coloradans support marriage for same-sex couples.

An ABC News/Washington Post poll released this month found 58 per cent of Americans now think it should be legal for same-sex couples to get married.

Earlier this week, the most influential pediatrician’s group in the US endorsed same-sex marriage, saying a stable relationship between parents, regardless of sexual orientation, contributes to a child’s health and wellbeing.

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