A bill that would offer gay and lesbian couples identical benefits and responsibilities to marriage was approved by a Hawaii Senate panel on Tuesday, ABC-affiliate KITV reported.

The Judiciary Committee approved the measure with a 3-2 vote.

The civil unions measure is nearly identical to a bill approved last year by the Legislature and vetoed by then-Governor Linda Lingle, a Republican. In announcing her decision, Lingle said that she believed civil unions are “essentially same-sex marriage by another name.”

Voters on November 2 rejected Lingle's lieutenant governor, James “Duke” Aiona, to succeed her in the Governor's Mansion in favor of Democrat Neil Abercrombie. Aiona had pledged to back an amendment that would ban government recognition of all gay unions, closing the option for civil unions or domestic partnerships left open by a 1998 constitutional amendment granting lawmakers the power to define marriage as a heterosexual union. The measure overruled a 1993 Hawaii Supreme Court ruling that favored gay marriage advocates. Abercrombie said he supported recognizing gay couples with civil unions.

The measure now goes to the full Senate before moving to the House.