Amy and Ashley Ostdiek have been together for nearly eight years and, so far, neither of them has forgotten an anniversary.

And they have several. The 20-something Longmont couple met in April 2005, had a wedding ceremony in Nebraska in June and got their marriage license in New York in November. Now, the couple will have another date to add to their list -- the day they received civil union rights in Colorado.

"The benefit of being in a relationship with two women is that we both tend to remember our anniversary," Amy Ostdiek said.

Gov. John Hickenlooper signed a civil unions bill Thursday that will extend hundreds of state-level rights to same-sex couples.

Under the law, civil unions are available to all Coloradans, gay or straight.

Couples who enter into civil unions will have protected rights that include hospital visitation, end-of-life inheritance, adoption rights and insurance benefits equal to straight, married couples.

Because the couple was married in New York, the civil union rights will automatically transfer to Colorado. Other couples will have to go to the county clerk's office, file paperwork and pay a fee to enter into a civil union.

The Ostdieks said even though they have included each other as beneficiaries and even changed Ashley's last name to clarify any questions that might arise about their relationship, these rights will provide security that the couple has not felt before.


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"We're young, but we are very aware that anything can happen at any moment and want to be protected," Amy Ostdiek said. "There's something very important about having your state and society as a whole recognize you as a legitimate couple."

Director Scarlet Bowen described the atmosphere in the office of the University of Colorado's Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer Resource Center on Thursday as "very celebratory."

"I think this has been a long time coming in Colorado," said Bowen, who noted the Boulder County clerk briefly handed out same-sex marriage licenses in the 1970s.

Bowen, who identifies as bisexual, pointed out that legalizing civil unions isn't the final step.

"We're working our way to the legitimization of same-sex marriage," she said. "I think there are 1,100 rights equated with federal marriage, so (civil unions) are not full equality, but it is definitely a step in the right direction."

Luke Grobe, a gay associate pastor at First Congregational United Church of Christ in Longmont, said even though he won't be entering into a civil union this spring, the law gives him hope for starting a family in the future.

Grobe, 28, said the church has accepted and blessed Colorado's lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community for more than a decade, and now state law will give couples an extended level of commitment.

But, he said, "Maybe one day I'll be able to use that word 'marriage' because it just kind of sounds weird to get down on one knee and say, 'Will you civil union me?' I hope, one day, to use that language both in my personal life as well as legally."

Brad Clark, executive director of One Colorado, an LGBT advocacy group, said that through civil unions, same-sex couples will not receive federal marriage rights such as filing jointly on their income taxes and Social Security benefits.

"Words matter," Clark said. "If same-sex marriage was recognized by the federal government, it infers a level of dignity that couples in Colorado still won't have."

Out Boulder Executive Director Aicila Lewis echoed the sentiment that civil unions are simply a stop on the way to equality but, she said, "Every step forward is a step worth celebrating."

"The fact that only seven years ago we lost marriage equality in Colorado and today the majority of Colorado residents support relationship recognition for same-sex couples is a huge achievement," Lewis said.

Lewis went to the History Colorado Center in Denver to watch Gov. Hickenlooper sign the bill into law Thursday and said it was amazing to see people standing in the balconies and cheering.

"I cried a little," Lewis said. "I'm just proud of Colorado."

Colorado became the sixth state to allow civil unions, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures website. Nine additional states and the District of Columbia allow state-issued marriage licenses, according to the site.

The law is expected to take effect May 1.

Whitney Bryen can be reached at 303-684-5274 or wbryen@times-call.com.