A key Rhode Island Senate committee has scheduled a legislative hearing on a proposal to legalize gay marriage in the state.

The Senate Judiciary Committee will hold the hearing on Thursday.

The panel will also consider a bill which seeks to put the issue up to a popular vote next year. That bill was introduced on Wednesday by Senator Frank Ciccone, a Republican.

Ciccone's measure includes broad exemptions based on religious beliefs. It would exempt priests, rabbis, fraternal societies and “any small business” from having to participate in a marriage ceremony that “violates the institution or business owner's religious beliefs.”

Ciccone told the Providence Journal that he sponsored the bill in hopes it “would put an end to the question of gay marriage.”

“The two chambers have devoted enough time and effort on gay marriage,” Ciccone told the paper. “There are bigger things and more worries in the state right now that my constituents have been complaining about.”

The House overwhelmingly approved the marriage equality bill in January but passage remains in doubt in the Senate, where Senate President Teresa Paiva Weed is an opponent.