The Rhode Island Senate on Wednesday approved a bill that would recognize gay and lesbian couples with civil unions, and Governor Lincoln Chafee has said he'll sign it.

The Senate Judiciary Committee approved the bill with a 7-4 vote. A short time later the full Senate took up the measure and overwhelmingly approved it with a 21-16 vote.

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.

Citing the measure's broad religious exemptions, gay groups have urged Chafee to veto the legislation.

“This flawed civil union bill undermines a crucial principle that Rhode Island has always stood for – respecting the separation of church and state,” said Marc Solomon, national campaign director for Freedom to Marry.

Freedom to Marry joined GLAD and other groups in a letter to Chafee opposing the legislation.

“This amendment could allow individuals, who are legally required to recognize everyone else’s legal commitments, to opt out of doing so only for gay and lesbian people. In practical terms, this law could allow religiously affiliated hospitals to deny a civil union spouse’s right to be by his spouse’s side and make medical decisions for him, and could allow religiously affiliated agencies to deny an employee’s right to leave in order to care for his civil union spouse under Rhode Island Family and Medical Leave,” the letter reads.

The civil unions bill was introduced after lawmakers decided against pursuing marriage for gay couples.