A Rhode Island House committee has for the first time approved a gay marriage bill.

The House Judiciary Committee on Tuesday unanimously approved Democratic Representative Arthur Handy's bill which seeks to make Rhode Island the 10th state in the nation to legalize such unions. The full House is expected to take up the issue on Thursday.

“Today is the furthest a marriage bill has ever advanced in Rhode Island,” tweeted the group Rhode Islanders United for Marriage, which supports the measure.

In 2001, the House Judiciary Committee heard a similar bill but decided against passage.

The committee vote follows a hearing on the issue which attracted hundreds to the State House. More than 300 people signed up, but many did not speak.

Outside the hearing, opponents chanted “Let the people vote” and prayed under the State House dome.

(Related: Hundreds testify before Rhode Island House panel considering gay marriage bill.)

Rhode Island is the only New England state which does not allow gay and lesbian couples to marry. Two years ago, lawmakers approved civil unions for gay couples.

While passage in the House looks bright and Governor Lincoln Chafee has endorsed the effort, doubts remain in the Senate, where Democratic leaders remain opposed.