A Rhode Island Senate panel on Wednesday is expected to take up a bill that would recognize gay and lesbian couples with civil unions.

The move comes less than a week after the New York Senate approved and Governor Andrew Cuomo signed into law a bill legalizing gay marriage in the Empire State.

The legislation is supported by independent Governor Lincoln Chafee, who also backs marriage equality.

While Chafee and House Speaker Gordon Fox, who is openly gay, earlier supported a bill legalizing gay marriage in the state, the men reversed direction in part due to strong objections to the institution by Senate President Paiva Weed. Weed, however, said she could support a civil unions bill.

Fox's announcement that he would back civil unions over marriage for gay couples drew a loud protest from marriage 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.

Marriage Equality Rhode Island, the state's largest gay rights group, has said it will ask Chafee to veto the bill if its religious protections are not narrowed. The group has called an amendment added in the House that allows any religious entity to ignore the civil union of a gay couple “dangerous.”

If approved in committee, the full Senate could vote on the measure as early as late Wednesday. The measure cleared the House last month.