A Rhode Island Senate hearing on Thursday night might be a civil unions bill's final public airing before being voted on in the chamber.

The Senate Judiciary Committee will hear public comment on the measure two weeks after the House's approval and on the same day Illinois civil unions begin.

The upper chamber might vote on the bill as early as next week, the AP reported.

Democratic Representative Peter Petrarca offered his bill after House Speaker Gordon Fox, who is gay and backs marriage equality, announced that a gay marriage proposal sponsored by Democratic Representative Arthur Handy has “no realistic chance” of being approved in the General Assembly this session.

Fox's announcement that he would back civil unions over marriage for gay couples drew a loud protest from marriage equality supporters who said separate is never equal. The compromise also failed to mollify gay marriage opponents, who claimed the law would be used as a steppingstone to legalize gay marriage.

Supporters have predicted an easy victory in the Senate and Governor Lincoln Chafee, an independent, has said he'll sign the bill into law.

If approved, Rhode Island would become the fourth state after New Jersey, Hawaii, and Illinois to offers such unions. A civil unions bill in Colorado died in committee earlier this year.