Hundreds of people joined a rally outside the Rhode Island statehouse yesterday to call for gay marriage.

Last week, the House Speaker of the US state said he would throw his support behind civil unions instead because there was no chance of legalising gay marriage soon.

Gordon Fox, who is gay, was criticised by gay rights groups for abandoning the marriage equality effort.

The rally urged politicians to back gay marriage. Protesters carried rainbow flags and placards bearing messages such as ‘love has no gender’. One participant, in reference to the House Speaker, held a banner saying ‘fox hunting season is now open’.

Mr Fox says he still wants to see gay marriage legalised but has cautioned that there is not enough support for the move.

He said last week: “This is the best we can do right now. Full marriage will happen. I’m born and bred in Rhode Island. When I do get married it will be in my home state.”

Gay marriage bills have failed in Rhode Island repeatedly in recent years. The latest bill was greeted with more hope, as new governor Lincoln Chafee promised he would sign it if it reached his desk. He has also said he will support civil unions.

A civil union bill was introduced by representative Peter J Petrarca last night and hearings could be heard as early as next week.