A Republican lawmaker in Alabama has introduced a bill which seeks to allow probate judges and ministers to refuse to marry gay and lesbian couples based their religious beliefs.

Representative Jim Hill claims his bill would protect religious freedom, but opponents argue it could open the door to broader discrimination against gay couples.

The Senate Judiciary Committee on Wednesday heard testimony about the bill, which has already cleared the House, the AP reported.

Roughly 500 gay couples exchanged vows earlier this year after a federal judge struck down Alabama's ban on gay marriage. The Alabama Supreme Court responded with a ruling ordering judges to stop issuing marriage licenses to gay couples.

Hill said his bill was a response to those weddings.

The Supreme Court next month is expected to hand down a ruling challenging similar bans in four states.