DENVER — Colorado lawmakers passed legislation Tuesday to legalize civil unions for same-sex couples, following several years of bitter debate over the issue.
Pushed by the Democrat-led Legislature, the bill had been widely expected to gain approval this year, after Democrats retook control of the state House of Representatives last November.
But Tuesday’s victory was no less meaningful for supporters, who had come frustratingly close to passing the legislation in 2012. And it signaled the latest shift in a state that was once seen as hostile toward gays and lesbians.
“This is a historic moment to be seized and to be cherished,’’ said state Representative Pete Lee, as the House weighed civil unions for the final time Tuesday.
‘‘We vote today to redeem our friends,’’ he added. ‘‘Our aunts, our uncles, our sisters, our children, and, dare I say, our colleagues, from the scourge of discrimination and inequality.’’
Leading the efforts to pass the legislation were Senator Pat Steadman and Mark Ferrandino, the House speaker, both Democrats from Denver and two of eight openly gay state legislators here. The bill passed the House by a vote of 39-26. The legislation had cleared the Senate. Governor John Hickenlooper is expected to sign the bill into law in the coming weeks.
Currently 19 other states and the District of Columbia recognize civil unions, marriages, and domestic partnerships, or other benefits for same-sex couples, according to the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force.