A bill that would give gay and lesbian couples many of the legal protections of marriage will be debated in the Delaware House on Thursday.

Democratic Senator Dave Sokola's civil unions bill cleared the Democrat-controlled, 5-member House Administration Committee with a 3 to 1 vote on Wednesday.

The measure cleared the Senate with a comfortable 13 to 6 vote last Thursday after supporters fought off two amendments sponsored by Democratic Senator Robert Venables.

Opponents in the House have already announced they'll introduce 6 amendments on the floor Thursday.

One measure would ask for a public referendum on the issue, while a second would open civil unions to heterosexual couples and family members who live together.

At a Senate hearing last week, Equality Delaware President Lisa Goodman defended the bill from opponents' claims that civil unions were just a stepping stone to marriage for gay and lesbian couples.

β€œIt'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 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.