A bill which seeks to recognize gay and lesbian couples in Colorado with civil unions received an initial nod from House members on Monday.

Lawmakers debated the measure for over four hours before taking a voice vote. A formal vote on the measure is expected to take place Tuesday.

House Speaker Mark Ferrandino, a Democrat, has championed civil unions in the House for the last three legislative sessions. This year, a second openly gay Democrat, Rep. Sue Schafer, joined Ferrandino in co-sponsoring the bill.

“I don't ask to put your relationships up to a vote of the people,” Ferrandino lashed out at Republicans attempting to tack on a provision to the bill calling for a public referendum on the issue.

The Denver Post reported that two Republicans, Cheri Gerou of Evergreen and Carole Murray of Castle Rock, spoke in favor of the measure.

“What this bill is about is personal freedom and individual liberties,” Gerou said. “This is a good conservative bill.”

GOP opposition was led Rep. Bob Gardner of Colorado Springs.

In addition to advancing an amendment which called for a referendum on the issue, Republicans pressed for additional exemptions based on religious beliefs, including returning exemptions for child placement agencies omitted from last year's bill. Democrats managed to derail all attempts to amend the bill.

The Senate approved the measure last month and Democratic Governor John Hickenlooper is a strong supporter of civil unions.