The Delaware House on Thursday approved a civil unions bill and sent it to the desk of Governor Jack Markell for his signature. Markell added his support three weeks ago at an outdoor event to introduce the measure.

Democratic Senator Dave Sokola's civil unions bill, which gives gay and lesbian couples all of the legal protections of marriage, cleared the Democrat-controlled House after a two-hour debate with a 26 to 15 vote.

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. 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.

House members opposed to the measure proposed nine amendments, including the two defeated in the Senate.

The bill was carried in the House by Democratic Representative Melanie George, who told lawmakers that she believes “with ever fiber of my being that this is the right thing to do.”

“When it came to this legislation, it was clear that it was about rights, it was about opportunity and it was about time,” Markell said in a statement. “I congratulate everyone who worked so hard to make these rights real and look forward to signing this bill into law.”

Delaware joins three states – Illinois, Hawaii and New Jersey – which currently offer the union. Despite widespread support in the state, a GOP-controlled Colorado House committee killed a similar measure earlier this month.