A judiciary committee of the Colorado Senate has approved a bill to give gay couples the right to civil unions.

Senate Bill 172, if passed, will give gay couples the right to visit each other in hospitals or prisons, make medical decisions, claim some benefits and inherit property.

It was introduced by Denver senator Pat Steadman, who is gay.

He said: “The importance of this issue is that there are literally thousands of families in Colorado that currently do not have the equal protection of state law that are available to others.”

The judiciary committee approved the bill by six votes to three yesterday.

The court chambers heard arguments for and against the bill, including one woman who mentioned Stalin in her opposition.

Rosina Kovar also claimed that the bill would lead to compulsory sex education for five-year-olds.

But gay couple Tom Carllon and Gabe Martinez, who married in California in 2008, also argued against the bill, calling instead for gay marriage.

“Civil unions will be an excuse not to upgrade us to marriage,” Mr Carllon testified. “The public will forever equate civil unions as marriage, or, less hopefully, just ‘good enough’ as marriage.”