A key House panel approved a bill Thursday that would extend health-care benefits to gay and lesbian spouses, the Washington Post reported.

Openly lesbian Tammy Baldwin's Domestic Partnership Benefits and Obligations Act was approved by the House subcommittee on federal workforce issues on a 5 to 3 party-line vote. The full committee is expected to take up the legislation in September.

The Wisconsin Democrat's bill would provide health and retirement benefits to the gay and lesbian spouses of federal employees.

Last month, President Obama signed an executive order that granted federal employees sick leave to take care of a sick partner or a non-biological child but stopped short of extending access to primary health insurance and pensions to gay spouses.

At the executive order signing ceremony surrounded by gay leaders and lawmakers in the Oval Office Obama commended Baldwin for her work on the issue and urged passage of the bill.

“Extending equal benefits to the same-sex partners of federal employees is the right thing to do,” Obama said.

Democrats argued that the federal government was behind the private sector on the issue.

“We are way behind in this country,” Eleanor Holmes, a delegate from D.C., said. “Wake up. The country has changed on these issues. Congress is following, not leading.”

But Republicans balked at the legislation, calling it “special rights.”

“I am against taxpayers funding for these benefits because it is totally inconsistent with the belief that marriage should be one man and one woman,” Representative Mark Souder, a Republican from Illinois, said.

Baldwin said in a statement that she was “delighted” with the subcommittee's approval.