Minnesota Rep. Tim Kelly on Wednesday announced a bill which seeks to recognize gay and lesbian couples with civil unions.

Kelly, a Republican, announced the proposal during a news conference at the Capitol.

“Government's role is to protect the individual,” Kelly said, adding that his bill would do just that for gay couples.

The bill's introduction comes after gay marriage bills have cleared legislative committees in both the House and Senate and await floor votes.

Two years ago, Kelly was one of four Republicans who voted against placing a constitutional amendment on the ballot defining marriage as a heterosexual union. Voters rejected the amendment last November.

Democratic Rep. Karen Clark, chief sponsor of the House marriage bill, criticized the effort as too little too late.

“It's a little late to be coming with something like this to deflect the momentum that's out there to really make sure that it's marriage equality, not a second class status that doesn't work,” Clark told Minnesota Public Radio. “It just plain doesn't work.”

Democratic Senator Scott Dibble, who is sponsoring the marriage bill in the Senate, said he was confident lawmakers would approve marriage for gay couples this session.

“Minnesotans are ready for this,” Dibble said.