After its approval in the Delaware Senate last week, a bill that would give gay and lesbian couples many of the legal protections of marriage moves to a House panel on Wednesday.

Democratic Senator Dave Sokola's civil unions bill cleared the Senate with a comfortable 13 to 6 vote on Thursday. (2 members were absent.)

The Democrat-controlled, 5-member House Administration Committee chaired by Representative Peter C. Schwartzkopf of Rehoboth will hold a hearing on the bill on Wednesday starting at 2:30PM.

According to Equality Delaware, the gay rights group that helped lawmakers draft the bill, the measure is expected to arrive on the House floor on Thursday, suggesting the group is confident the committee will approve the measure.

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

Three states – Illinois, Hawaii and New Jersey – currently offer civil unions. Despite widespread support in the state, a GOP-controlled Colorado House committee killed a similar measure earlier this month.

If the measure is approved by Delaware lawmakers, it would represent the first time such a measure is successful in its first outing.