The diminutive American state of Rhode Island is set to stage a debate on whether to legalise equal marriage for same-sex couples, with a vote to be held by the House of Representatives later this month.

House Speaker Gordon Fox has called for legislation to be put before the House before the end of January.

The decision comes after Rhode Island’s Governor was criticised by opponents for saying that equal marriage legislation should be decided on by lawmakers rather than voted on by the public.

The state’s capitol building the Rhode Island State House is preparing to host a hearing by the House Judiciary Committee on Tuesday. Supporters and opposition groups will be invited to make their cases to influence the House’s decision.

Christopher Plante, director of Rhode Island’s branch of the anti-gay National Organisation for Marriage, estimated around 500 people would attend the debate.

“What you see is the elites and people who are using their positions for their personal opinions, but they don’t represent the voices of Rhode Islanders,” said Mr Plante.

Rhode Island has become the latest in a series of US states to address the question of whether to allow equal marriage. It is the last of the “New England” states to do so.

Nine US states have already decided to legalise same-sex marriage, beginning with Maine and Maryland in November of 2012. Illinois has plans to vote on the topic later this year.