A small contingent of the homophobic Westboro Baptist Church have staged a demonstration against equal marriage in freezing-cold weather in Maryland.

It was in protest at the state’s decision to allow gay couples to marry, with the new law having taken effect at midnight on New Year’s Day.

On Wednesday, four members of church picketed outside the state capital’s courthouse in Annapolis, and in the early hours were met with more than 250 counter-protesters singing songs and holding signs preaching tolerance.

The counter-protest was organised by the local St Anne’s Episcopal Church.

Annapolis Mayor Joshua Cohen blasted the Westboro members for showing up in the state capital.

“When people came to our city to preach hate, we stood up to them,” the mayor said, reported the Baltimore Sun. “It was a beautiful scene.”

Wednesday marked the first day the courthouse was open for business after the same-sex marriage law took effect at midnight on Tuesday 1 January.

The Westboro Baptist Church protesters, known for picketing the funerals of dead US soldiers, planned a second protest in front of the Baltimore County Circuit Courthouse in Towson, Maryland, later in the day.

During December, Westboro blamed both the Sandy Hook elementary school massacre in Connecticut, and the Christmas Eve shooting of two fighters in New York state, - along with all other tragedies to date - on America’s increasing acceptance of gay rights.

An online petition for President Obama to classify Westboro as a hate group has attracted more than 300,000 signatures.