Senators in Washington late Wednesday approved a bill that would make the state the seventh to legalize gay marriage.

The Senate voted on the bill after less than an hour of debate and the chamber erupted in cheers when the 28 to 21 tally was announced.

Democrats fought back an amendment supported by Republicans that would have expanded the bill's religious protections to include private businesses and individuals and another that would have put the measure up for a public vote.

Republican Senators Cheryl Pflug and Steve Litzow spoke up in support of marriage equality.

“This has been a very personal and emotional issue for everyone,” Litzow told colleagues. “I'm voting for this bill because I believe it's the right thing to do. I believe an adult should have the right to marry the person they love. It's that simple for me. It's about the personal freedom of two consenting adults to make that choice for themselves.”

“Marriage promotes responsibility, commitment, and stability. Family values that we all believe are important. We cannot guarantee the outcome of that pursuit – the legislation is good, but it's not that good,” he added to a round of applause.

The measure now heads to the House, where supporters outnumber opponents. Governor Chris Gregoire has said she will sign the bill.

Opponents of marriage equality have vowed to challenge the law with a referendum.

Washington currently recognizes gay and lesbian couples with domestic partnerships.