A Colorado Senate panel on Monday approved a bill that offers gay and lesbian couples many of the benefits and responsibilities of marriage, The Durango Herald reported.

The Senate Judiciary Committee approved the bill with a 6 to 3 vote.

Openly gay state Senator Pat Steadman introduced his gay-inclusive civil unions bill on Valentine's Day. Democratic Representative Mark Ferrandino will sponsor a similar bill in the House.

One opponent of the bill said it was “a laughingstock in the eyes of God.”

“American society is based on the family,” Pastor Roger Anghis of Prevailing Word Ministries in Littleton told the committee. “The family has always been one man and one woman. It will never be anything else.”

Also opposed to the proposal is the Roman Catholic Church.

In a letter to Colorado Catholics, Rev. Charles J. Chaput, the Archbishop of Denver, said the bill “undermines the privileged place of marriage and the family.”

“Marriage and the family are cornerstones of any culture – Christian or not. They ensure the future through the creation of new human life. Any diminishment of the identity of marriage and the family undermines society itself.”

Steadman said he is proposing the law because a 2006 voter-approved constitutional amendment bans gay marriage in the state.

“The constitutional amendment was about marriage and that's not what this bill is about,” Steadman told NBC affiliate 9 News. “The importance of this issue is that there are literally thousands of families in Colorado that currently do not have the equal protection of state law that are available to others.”

All 20 Democratic members of the Senate are co-sponsors to the legislation, making passage in the Democrat-controlled chamber a near certainty. Less certain are the bill's prospects in the House, where Republicans hold a single seat majority.

If approved, Colorado would become the fourth state to offer the union behind New Jersey, Illinois and Hawaii.

The bill now heads to the Senate Finance Committee for another hearing.