"We don't believe we should legislate what happens inside a church or place of worship, but government should treat all people equally," he said. "It's time to pass civil unions."
His line was met with a hearty round of applause from Senate and House Democrats. Civil unions are currently legal in five states (five others recognize domestic partnerships) and in many ways grant gay couples the same rights and privileges as married couples.
Just last year, on a 6-to-5 party-line vote, a measure to allow civil unions in the state died in a House committee vote. Democrat Mark Farrandino said on Thursday he is optimistic the measure will get to the full House floor this year.
"I'm hopeful," he said. "I've had some conversations - some good conversations - and I'm hopeful that by the end of the day when it gets out of the Senate there will be a Republican [sponsor] on that bill."
Republican House Speaker Frank McNulty said on Thursday he was "surprised" the governor brought it up, but the move will not change his mind on what should happen to the measure.
"From a House Republican perspective we are focused on the kitchen table issues of job creation and how to get this economy going," he said. "If a civil union bill made it to the [House] floor, I wouldn't vote for it."
Six states currently recognize same-sex marriage according to the National Conference of State Legislators.
(KUSA-TV © 2012 Multimedia Holdings Corporation)