Lawmakers in the American state of Massachusetts have approved a referendum on gay marriage. The ballot, which will take place in 2008, will ask voters to ban same-sex marriage.

The New England state is currently the only one in the US that has legalised gay marriage.

Republicans in the state legislature voted through the measure twice, despite opposition from the governor-elect, Democrat Deval Patrick.

Patrick will be sworn in as governor of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts tomorrow, the first African-American to hold that office.

Amendment supporters collected 120,000 signatures opposing gay marriage.

Over 8,000 same-sex couples have been married since the state made such unions legal in 2004.

If passed, the ballot measure would seek to define marriage as only between a man and a women, stopping any future gay weddings, though any gay or lesbian wedding ceremonies carried out up to and until the ballot would be legally valid.

Outgoing state governor Mitt Romney, tipped as a possible Republican candidate for President, was pleased with the outcome.

“This is a huge victory for the people of Massachusetts,” he said.

The measure is still several steps away from making it onto the ballot in 2008.

It needs to be approved by 50 members of the current legislature and 50 members of the new legislature.

While yesterday’s vote fulfils the beginning of the process, it seems unlikely that the new representatives will vote to question gay marriage.

Over a dozen of the most vocal opponents of gay marriage will not be returning to office.