The House in the US state of Delaware passed a bill to legalise equal marriage, taking the state one step closer to legalising same-sex marriage.

The legislation passed today by 23 votes to 18, and if signed into law, would allow marriage rights to same-sex couples.

The bill explicitly aims to respect religious freedom, in that no religious organisation would be forced to marry anyone against their beliefs.

The legislation which aims to strike down a ban on equal marriage, which was implemented in 1996, and to allow same-sex couples to marry.

The measure will now go over to the Senate for consideration.

Attorney General Beau Biden said that the House passing the bill “is a huge step forward for equality in Delaware,”

“I want to congratulate Rep. Melanie George Smith and all of the legislators who supported marriage equality, and I look forward to working with Senator David Sokola to help the bill pass in the Senate. Everyone is equal under the law, and all Delawareans should be free to marry the person they love.”

Delaware Governor Jack Markell, a Democrat, told the Huffington Post in August that he was confident an equal marriage bill could build momentum in 2013.

On introducing this bill, Markell said he was hopeful that it would pass given the Democratic control over both the upper and lower chambers of the legislature, but did go on to say ”nothing is sure until it’s done.”

A poll released in March revealed that at least half of the registered voters in Delaware would support legislation that gives marriage rights to same-sex couples.

Delaware was the eighth state to give same-sex couples the right to civil unions, and Governor Markell signed the legislation into law in 2011. 

The US Supreme Court recently heard arguments around Proposition 8, the state of California’s ban on equal marriage. During the hearing, the justices questioned the meaning of marriage, and challenged arguments for the ban. 

One day prior, the Supreme Court Justices indicated a possible interest in striking down the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), as it heard arguments around the issue.

A decision by the Supreme Court is expected in both cases by the end of June.