The Congress of Colombia announced on Friday the start of legislative efforts to recognize the relationships of gay and lesbian couples.

The Senate on Monday will begin debate on a proposal to legalize civil unions.

The bill is sponsored by Senator Armando Benedetti and Rep. Alfonso Prada.

Last year, Colombia's Constitution Court upheld marriage as a heterosexual union but gave lawmakers an ultimatum: recognize gay unions before July 20, 2013 or we'll do it for you.

According to the order, if Congress fails to act, then “gay couples can go to a notary and with the same solemnity of a heterosexual marriage enter a union similar to one between a heterosexual couple,” said Judge Juan Carlos Henao, the court's president.

In response, lawmakers have introduced several competing bills, including one from the nation's third largest political party, the Partido Liberal Colombiano, which would legalize marriage for gay couples.

Benedetti's and Prada's bill would give gay couples “the same rights of couples united by the bond of civil marriage,” Spanish news agency EFE reported.