The Colorado Senate on Wednesday began debate on a bill that would give gay and lesbian couples many of the benefits and responsibilities of marriage.

According to the Huffington Post, the chamber approved Senator Pat Steadman's gay-inclusive civil unions bill on a second reading Wednesday morning.

Steadman, who is openly gay, told colleagues that the bill was essential for ensuring “very basic, but very important legal protections … that no family should be without.”

A third and final vote on the measure could come as early as today. All 20 Democratic Senate members have co-sponsored the measure, nearly guaranteeing passage in the Democrat-controlled chamber.

Democratic Representative Mark Ferrandino will introduce the measure in the House.

Ferrandino has claimed there is Republican support for the measure in the GOP-controlled House. But whether the measure reaches the House floor remains to be seen. Supporters worry that House Speaker Frank McNulty, a Highlands Ranch Republican, will assign the bill to a hostile committee, thereby killing it.

The Colorado Statesman has quoted McNulty as saying: “When we get it, we will assign it to committee and wherever it's assigned, it will receive a fair hearing.”

On Tuesday, a civil unions bill was introduced in Delaware.