The newly-elected governor of US state Rhode Island has used his first speech to urge for legal gay marriage.

Lincoln Chafee, a Republican turned independent, was sworn in yesterday and took the oath of office on the front steps of the Legislature.

In his inauguration speech, he said: “When marriage equality is the law in Rhode Island, we honour our forefathers who risked their lives and fortune in the pursuit of human equality.”

He continued: “Rhode Island today must be as welcoming to all as [founder] Roger Williams intended it to be.”

Referring to gay marriage and his pledge to repeal anti-immigration policies, he said: “These two actions will do more for economic growth in our state than any economic development loan.”

Rhode Island and Maine are the only two New England states which do not allow gay marriage.

A 2009 poll found that 60 per cent of the Rhode Island public were in favour of allowing gay couples to marry.

Last year, politicians approved a law to allow people in gay relationships to make funeral arrangements for their partners.