New Hampshire Representative Jim Splaine's bill that seeks to grant gay and lesbian couples the right to marry has won approval by the House. Members voted 186-179 to send the bill to the Senate, where it faces an uncertain future.

Lawmakers approved civil unions for gay and lesbian couples in 2007. Splaine, an openly gay Democrat, also sponsored that legislation.

The gay marriage bill, which is co-sponsored by state Rep. Paul McEachern (Democrat), amends the current civil unions law to marriage.

“The bill would essentially provide for full marriage equality,” Splaine told the Portsmouth Herald News. “I submitted the bill because I think it's important that we keep this dialogue going.”

The bill was introduced on January 7.

Proponents argued that civil unions fall short of marriage in terms of legal protections. In New Jersey, which grants civil unions to gay couples, a recent commission report found civil unions to be unequal. “This commission finds that the separate categorization established by the Civil Union Act invites and encourages unequal treatment of same-sex couples and their children,” the commission said in their unanimous report.

Last year, New Hampshire lawmakers passed on a similar Splaine-initiated measure.

Democratic Gov. John Lynch has not announced if he will veto the bill but remains opposed to gay marriage. Lynch did sign the 2007 civil unions bill.

Gay marriage became legal last year in nearby Connecticut and Massachusetts endorsed gay marriage in 2004. Currently, no state Legislature has passed a gay marriage bill. Vermont lawmakers remain on a fast track to become the first, but a promised veto by Gov. Jim Douglas threatens to derail the effort.