A bill that would give gay and lesbian couples many of the benefits and responsibilities of marriage has been introduced in Delaware.

Democratic Senator Dave Sokola introduced his civil unions bill at an event held outside Legislative Hall on Tuesday.

The gay rights group Equality Delaware (EQDE) helped lawmakers draft the legislation.

“EQDE is proud to have worked with the sponsors of this bill to get to today,” Lisa Goodman, the group's president, said in a statement. “We believe that the time has come in Delaware for civil unions and that this bill will become law this year.”

The bill's sponsor in the House, Representative Melanie George, told WDEL 1150AM that the measure built upon previous civil rights victories.

“A hundred years ago, women were not treated the same way as men, and we fought hard to correct those wrongs,” George said. “50 years ago, blacks were not given the same rights as whites, and we fought to correct that.”

At the outdoor event, Democratic Governor Jack Markell also threw his support behind the effort.

In an “Urgent call to action,” the Delaware Family Policy Council urged members to oppose the proposal.

“A vote for civil unions is a vote for same-sex 'marriage' because civil unions are a springboard to redefining marriage,” the group said, referring to instances – for example in Illinois – in which activists called for marriage equality after lawmakers approved civil unions. “Therefore, civil unions are a desperate and dishonest attempt to force same-sex 'marriage' on Delaware.”

“If government changes the definition of marriage, which civil unions will do, it will have to enforce the belief that same sex 'marriage' is the equivalent of man/woman marriage. This belief will be taught in the classroom.”

In its message, the group also targeted three Republicans – Joseph Miro, Nick Manolakos and Michael Ramone – and three Democrats – Quinton Johnson, Earl Jaques Jr. and Rebecca Walker – seen as possible supporters of the measure.

According to a Lake Research Partners poll released last week, 62 percent of of likely voters favor civil unions, compared to 31 percent who oppose the proposed law.

If Delaware approves civil unions, the state would join Illinois, Hawaii and New Jersey in offering the union. Colorado lawmakers are also debating the issue.