The US state of Colorado’s Senate has passed a civil unions bill.

Lawmakers approved the bill by 23-12 votes and it will now go to the House.

Although it will not grant gay couples all the rights given to straight couples, it will give them 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.

Yesterday, Democrat representative Mark Ferrandino, who is gay and the house sponsor of the bill, said one politician’s testimony had moved him to tears.

Republican Jean White said she was voting for the measure on behalf of her gay niece and nephew.

According to the Denver Post, she said: “It occurred to me that if I did not come to the mic in support of this bill today, that I would be voting quietly for it but not having the courage to stand up for what is right, not having the courage for me to step out of the shadows and tell my story.”

Earlier this month, a Senate judiciary committee heard evidence from a gay couple who said they did not support the bill because it will make marriage equality harder to obtain.

Tom Carllon, who married his husband Gabe Martinez in California in 2008, said: “Civil unions will be an excuse not to upgrade us to marriage. The public will forever equate civil unions as marriage, or, less hopefully, just ‘good enough’ as marriage.”