May 1, 2013 9:40 PM by Andy Koen
COLORADO SPRINGS - Civil unions officially became legal across Colorado Wednesday and as gay and lesbian couples celebrated across the state, a community rally and mass ceremony marked the occasion in Pueblo.
At least 16 couple's applied for and received the first civil union licenses to be granted in the county. The ceremony was coordinated with the help of the Southern Colorado Equality Alliance (SCEA) and Clerk and Recorder Gilbert "Bo" Ortiz.
"My heart is swelled, I'm overwhelmed," said SCEA executive director Daneya Esgar. "I'm so excited that this day is finally here and I couldn't ask for a better celebration."
The group was planning to hold a rally outside on the courthouse steps, but moved indoors to escape the weather. The couples, along with friends and relatives all crowded into the County Commissioners chambers for a brief news conference to celebrate the history of the moment.
County Commission Liane "Buffy" McFadyen and City Councilman Steve Nawrocki offered words of congratulations. The couples then headed upstairs to the Clerk and Recorders Office to officially apply for their licenses.
Many then returned to the Commissioners Chambers to exchange vows. For Bea and Jamie Gallegos, it was their third trip to the alter.
"Third time's a charm," Jamie joked. The couple held an unofficial ceremony in Pueblo before joining in a legal marriage in California.
"We're just excited that it's finally becoming legal and there's more acceptance from the public," she said.
The union legally gives both partners parental rights over their children, whereas before one partner was left out. That was the circumstance facing Laura Torres and her partner Becky Gonzalez with regards to her 10 year old daughter Alyssa Gray.
"I'm just like you know a regular parent," Torres said. "I do everything and I just want to be recognized as a parent as well."
The license grants legal protections when it comes to family medicine.
"I know couples that have actual medical issues and conditions and this piece of paper will make sure that they they're able to protect each other and be responsible for each other in the eyes of the law," Esgar explained.
The celebration also gives hope to same couples who are just starting to plan their future, like Christina Garcia and Charlotte Perez.
"It just means now we know we can walk out our door and be safe and love each other and nobody can ever take it away from us," Garcia said.
Esgar said the SCEA plans to continue to push for stronger laws for same sex couples. Their ultimate goal is same sex marriage but to do that would require overturning Amendment 43 which defines marriage in our state as a union between a man and woman.