Marian Stone and Susan Youngworth waited more than two decades for Wednesday, an historic day in Colorado when a new and hard-fought civil unions law went into effect.
The lesbian couple, together for 22 years, tied the knot in a ceremony with 16 other gay and lesbian couples at the Business of Arts Center in Manitou Springs.
'We're for real, ' Stone said afterward. 'We have a real life together as partners, as life partners. '
In El Paso County, 36 couples took out civil union licenses Wednesday.
Stone, 60, a Colorado Springs native, said the state has come a long way since the days of Amendment 2, which banned laws protecting gays from discrimination based on their sexual orientation. The constitutional amendment, which saw Colorado branded a 'hate state ' by some groups after it was approved in 1992, has since been overturned.
'I was hurt really bad by what was being said during that campaign, ' Stone said. 'But now I feel like that's been erased and replaced with love and acceptance. '
Gay rights advocates said the road to equality hasn't been easy, and it isn't over. Full equality will come only when all couples can get legally married, they said.
'We will not and cannot stop here, ' said the Rev. Wes Mullins of Pikes Peak Metropolitan Community Church.
'Being given a water fountain to drink from is one thing. But it is not the same as being told that we can drink from any fountain. There is still more work to do. '
But Wednesday was about celebrating, said Mullins and the Rev. Nori Rost of All Souls Unitarian Universalist Church, who performed the civil union ceremony in Manitou Springs together.
Rost, who came out as a lesbian at 16, said she was 18 when she 'wept and wept and wept ' at her best friend's wedding.
'It was a particularly moving service, frankly, ' she said. 'I wept for a future I never thought I could have. '
When Gov. John Hickenlooper signed the civil union bill March 21, Rost said she wept again.
'These were different tears. They were tears of joy, ' she said. 'They were tears that come at the end of a long journey that's hard fought. '
Couples started lining up for licenses in El Paso County before offices opened at 8 a.m.
Bryan See and Pat Idoux were all business when they arrived bright and early at the Citizens Service Center on Garden of the Gods Road. They didn't get up early for a history-making celebration - they wanted to get their civil union license before heading to work.
'For us it's just like getting a drivers license, ' said Idoux, standing in the hallway with his partner of 15 years and waiting for the Clerk and Recorder's office to open at 8 a.m.
Idoux and See sat down to fill out paper work at 7:59 a.m., becoming the first couple in El Paso County to take advantage of the civil union law.
Several people cheered as the couple stood after making their commitment official. As they left the office they were surrounded by spotlights and TV cameras.
At Centennial Hall downtown, the first couple's reaction wasn't quite as conservative.
Tiffany Clark and Michelle Trujillo smiled widely and gave each other a double high-five when told they were the first in line just after 8 a.m.
'We're gonna get married, ' they shouted simultaneously when asked what the historic day meant to them.
'It's probably the best day of my life, ' said Clark, noting that she and her partner of 12 years would have a celebration of their civil union outside the Pioneers Museum on Wednesday evening.
The couple was surprised that more couples weren't lined up for the historic moment. Clark said many likely went to Denver, where they began handing out licenses at midnight.
The Denver County Clerk and Recorder's office said it issued 114 civil union licenses from midnight to about 5:30 a.m. Wednesday. Nancy Reubert, a spokeswoman for the office said they planned to stay open until 3 a.m., but decided to stay as long as couples were there to apply.
Most of the licenses issued were for Denver and the surrounding area, though some were from other areas along the Front Range. Reubert didn't know how many couples came from El Paso County.
Reubert said officials also performed 85 civil union ceremonies by 5:30 a.m..
In Colorado Springs, Eric Pizana and John Reasoner were among the first same-sex couples to get their union recognized at the El Paso County Combined Courthouse.
With a single witness to mark the occasion, the couple of six years were officially united at noon Wednesday by 4th Judicial District Judge Deborah Grohs.
'For me, this means a lot, ' said Pizana, 29, who works as an advocate for Inside/Out Youth Services, an outreach group for gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender youths. 'Not just for our relationship, but to show them that our state is taking a great step forward and it's OK for them to be who they are. '
The small ceremony is a prelude to a larger ceremony with family and friends planned for next year.
'It's been a long time coming, ' added Reasoner, 30.
Clark and Trujillo are optimistic that Colorado will one day recognize their relationship as a 'marriage ' and not just a civil union.
'This isn't the end. Civil unions are awesome, but marriage is the next step, ' Clark said. 'I think if people can get accustomed to the idea of civil unions and see that we're normal people and that we want all the same things that any couple wants, eventually it will grow on them just like civil unions did. '
'The bond that we have is unbreakable, ' said Trujillo.
Trujillo said the couple has cemented its relationship by purchasing a home together. She and Clark emphasized that the most important aspects of their civil union are medical and financial protections.
See and Idoux, and other couples who got their licenses Wednesday at the Citizens Service Center, agreed that legal protections are the main point of the new law. All House Democrats and two of 28 Republicans voted in favor of legalizing civil unions for all couples, homosexual and heterosexual.
Colorado became the eighth state to make civil unions legal.
The couples at El Paso county offices Wednesday morning were happy to finally be able to make medical decisions if their partners become ill. They also talked about the need to pass on their assets to each other in case of death and their desire for equal rights in the area of child rearing.
Katy Morrison, who works at the Citizens Service Center, stopped by the recorder's office to get a civil union license for her and partner Toni Richards.
Morrison said she was 'beyond excited. '
'I think this is the greatest thing ever, ' she said.
Morrison and Richards were united at the Business Arts Center and held a reception afterward at the Underground in Colorado Springs. She said family and friends were flying in Wednesday from all over the country. Some were even coming from Mexico.
'My whole family is going to be there. So is hers, ' Morrison said. 'It's going to be ridiculous. '
Gazette reporter Lance Benzel contributed to this report.