A Maryland Senate panel will consider a gay marriage bill on Tuesday.

The Senate Judiciary Proceedings Committee opens debate on the issue with a public hearing today.

Committee members are widely expected to approve the Religious Freedom and Civil Marriage Protection Act, introduced earlier in the session by Senate Majority Leader Rob Garagiola.

House Majority Leader Kumar Barve is behind the House version of the bill, which appears to be headed for an easy victory.

In the Senate, at least one Republican has publicly stated his support for the bill.

Last week, Senator Allan Kittleman announced he would vote in favor of the bill and drop his plan to introduce a competing measure that would limit government recognition of gay and lesbian couples to civil unions. The Senate's GOP caucus has voted to take an official position against the measure. Such a position requires the backing of a majority of members. Kittleman stepped down of his own accord as Senate minority leader last month in part over his dissenting opinion on marriage equality.

The measure remains four votes shy of passage in the Senate, where six senators say they remain undecided. According to a Washington Post survey, Democratic Senators John C. Astle, Joan Carter Conway, Ulysses Currie, Edward J. Kasemeyer, Katherine A. Klausmeier and James C. Rosapepe remain on the fence.

On Thursday, Maryland Lt. Gov. Anthony G. Brown came out in support of the measure.