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Colo. governor signs civil union bill

House Speaker Mark Ferrandino embraced Governor John Hickenlooper (right) after the bill was signed.

Rick Wilking/REUTERS

House Speaker Mark Ferrandino embraced Governor John Hickenlooper (right) after the bill was signed.

DENVER — Civil unions for gay couples got the governor’s signature in Colorado on Thursday, punctuating a dramatic turnaround in a state where voters banned same-sex marriage in 2006 and restricted protections for gays two decades ago.

Cheers erupted as Governor John Hickenlooper, a Democrat, signed the bill during a ceremony at the History Colorado Center near the state Capitol. Dozens of gay couples and others looked on, with many chanting ‘‘Equal! Equal!’’

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‘‘There is no excuse that people shouldn’t have all the same rights,’’ Hickenlooper told the crowd.

The law takes effect May 1.

‘‘It means I can change my name finally,’’ said 21-year-old Amber Fuentes of Lakewood, who plans to have a civil union with Yolanda Martinez, 34. ‘‘It’s not marriage, but it still gives us a lot of the rights.’’

Colorado will join eight states that have civil unions or similar laws. Nine states and the District of Columbia allow gay marriage.

The signing comes less than a year after the proposal was blocked by Republicans.

‘‘It’s really meaningful. To have the recognition of your love and relationship just like any other relationship by the state is an important both legal and symbolic thing,’’ said House Speaker Mark Ferrandino, a Democrat and a sponsor of the bill.

Supporters of civil unions say the passage is telling because in 1992, voters approved a ban on municipal antidiscrimination laws to protect gays.

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