The Illinois House on Tuesday approved a bill that would recognize gay and lesbian couples with civil unions, the AP reported.

The bill's narrow 61-52 vote came after a lengthy – at times emotional – debate.

Openly gay State Representative Greg Harris' bill passed out of committee last spring, but lawmakers had yet to vote on it.

“It's a matter of fairness,” Harris said. “It's a matter of respect. It's a matter of equality.”

Senators are expected to take up the bill on Wednesday.

The Catholic Church last week urged lawmakers to reject the measure, arguing that the “public understanding of marriage will be negatively affected by passage of a bill that ignores the natural fact that sexual complementarity is at the core of marriage.”

But Democratic Governor Pat Quinn, who has said he wants to sign the bill into law this year, said his Catholic faith “animates me to support this bill.”

At least three leading Chicago mayoral candidates have endorsed the bill, including lawyer Gery Chico, Rahm Emanuel, the former White House chief of staff, and former U.S. Senator Carol Moseley Braun.

In a statement released Tuesday, Chico applauded passage of the bill and encouraged lawmakers to legalize full marriage for gay couples.

“Extending human rights and responsibilities to committed same-sex couples is not only a matter of justice and human decency, it is good public policy,” he said. “However, while tonight is a step in the right direction, our work is not done. We must not rest until Illinois provides full marriage equality to all people.”

If approved, Illinois would join New Jersey in offering the unions. Lawmakers in Hawaii are also likely to revisit the issue early next year.