A bill that would give gay and lesbian couples many of the benefits of marriage cleared its first legislative hurdle Wednesday in Delaware, the Milford Beacon reported.

Democratic Senator Dave Sokola's civil unions bill cleared the six member Senate Administration and Elections Committee with the support of its four Democratic members. Republican Senators Dave Lawson and Joe Booth did not take a position on the bill.

The committee voted to send the bill to the Senate floor after hearing two hours' worth of testimony.

Nicole Theis, executive director of the conservative group Delaware Family Policy Council, has said her group opposes the bill because it is a “dishonest” attempt to legalize gay marriage in Delaware.

“Our position is that this debate has nothing to do with civil rights, we all have the same freedom to marry a member of the opposite sex,” Theis told lawmakers. “Marriage is about bringing male and female together, and that is good. Same-sex marriage redefines marriage, saying that men and women are optional for the family.”

Lee Littleton, a former state senator, said she objected to the bill on religious grounds.

“I believe God's word says man with man and woman with woman is an abomination, I don't want people going to hell,” she said.

The gay rights group Equality Delaware (EQDE) helped lawmakers draft the legislation. Its president countered that civil unions were not marriage.

“It's not about religion, it's not about procreation, it's not about some private purpose; this bill is about fairness and equality. This is a moderate bill based on what already exists in Delaware law to provide some but not all of the rights and protections that opposite sex couples enjoy.”

At an outdoor event last week to introduce the measure, Democratic Governor Jack Markell told the crowd that he looked forward to signing the bill into law.