The US state of Rhode Island was one step closer to legalising equal marriage, after its House Judiciary Committee unanimously approved a bill which would make it legal.

The committee voted on Tuesday, meaning the full House could vote as early as Thursday on whether or not to pass the measure.

Ray Sullivan, Rhode Islanders United for Marriage campaign director, said in a statement: “After hearing testimony from everyday Rhode Islanders – gay and straight, friends, family, and community leaders – the committee resoundingly endorsed extending the unique protections and recognition of marriage to all loving, committed couples.”

“This historic, affirmative vote moves us one step closer to finally making the Ocean State a place where all families are valued, respected and treated equally,” he said.

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.

The committee had been considering testimony from three hundred people, both for and against equal marriage, who signed up to speak at hearings at Rhode Island’s House, last week. Hundreds more gathered outside to protest against proceedings.

The bill is expected to pass in the House, but critics have speculated that it will face problems in the Senate, reports RawStory.

The decision to vote on the issue came 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.

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.