Labor battles, gun fights, fracking and education financing will test lawmakers when the state legislature opens Jan. 9, but one issue is not in doubt: Colorado is poised to become the ninth state in the nation to allow same-sex couples to form civil unions.
After two years of fighting over the issue, the Republicans who controlled the House and killed the measure are out of power, paving the way for a civil unions bill to head to Gov. John Hickenlooper, who supports legal recognition for same-sex couples.
But the victory will be bittersweet for Sen. Pat Steadman, the gay lawmaker who has led the fight for civil unions.
The Denver Democrat said he believes allowing gays to marry, rather than just form civil unions, would truly represent equality, but marriage is banned under Colorado's constitution.
And he won't be able to share the moment with his partner of 12 years, Dave Misner, who died in September after a brief battle with pancreatic cancer.
"It's going to be very sad for me, and sort of anticlimactic," Steadman said.
On opening day, Steadman will introduce his civil unions bill, his third such measure in three years.
House Democrats had enough votes to pass the measure in the 2012 session, but the GOP leadership refused to call it up for debate, resulting in one of the most dramatic Gold Dome battles in recent decades.
The fallout helped Democrats win a 37-28 majority in the November election. Denver Democrat Mark Ferrandino on opening day will be elected the first gay speaker of the Colorado House.
Ferrandino, the House sponsor of the measure, said civil unions "won't be rushed through," but he expects the measure to be signed into law around the session's midpoint in March.
Republican Mario Nicolais, a supporter of civil unions, thinks that's a good thing for all of Colorado but especially for the GOP.
"It's an issue Colorado Republicans have had a very hard time dealing with," said Nicolais, noting the growing acceptance of gays, particularly among young voters.
Steadman said many of his constituents have wondered why he is pushing only for civil unions when voters in Maine, Maryland and Washington in November voted to allow same-sex couples to marry.
He pointed out in his electronic newsletter that Colorado voters in 2006 passed a constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage.
"As a state senator, I cannot propose marriage equality because our constitution forbids it, and I took an oath to uphold our constitution," Steadman said. "But my oath also requires me to uphold the federal constitution and its promise of equal protection of the law. These obligations are in conflict and I cannot remain satisfied with the status quo."
He also pointed to a Denver Post poll released earlier this month that shows that only 36 percent of Coloradans support same-sex marriage. Another 32 percent favored civil unions, 27 percent oppose legal recognition of any sort, and 6 percent were unsure.
"I have consistently admitted that civil unions are not equal to marriage and they are in fact 'lesser, separate and unequal,' " he said. "And yet they are worth fighting for and there will be thousands of couples that will choose to enter this new relationship in Colorado."
Sen. Kevin Lundberg, R-Berthoud, who helped put the measure outlawing gay marriage on the ballot in 2006, could not be reached for comment.
Lynn Bartels: 303-954-5327, firstname.lastname@example.org or twitter.com/lynn_bartels