The US state of Delaware has become the eighth to give gay couples the right to civil unions.

The measure was approved this month by 13-6 votes in the Senate and 25-16 votes in the House.

It must now be signed into law by Governor Jack Markell.

He said after the House vote: “I congratulate everyone who worked so hard to make these rights real and look forward to signing this bill into law. When it came to this legislation, it was clear that it was about rights, it was about opportunity and it was about time.”

The law will be implemented on January 1st next year. Gay couples “will have all of the same rights, benefits, protections and responsibilities as married persons under Delaware law,” the measure says.

Faiths will retain the right not to carry out the ceremonies if they wish.

The bill survived several attempts to water it down. These included an amendment to allow anyone to refuse services in relation to a civil union on the grounds of religious belief.

The bill’s chief House sponsor, Rep Melanie George, said this could lead to mixed-race couples being denied goods and services.

Five US states and the District of Columbia allow gay couples to marry.