The Rhode Island House on Thursday overwhelmingly approved a bill which seeks to legalize gay marriage in the state.

Following an emotional debate, the House voted 51-19 to approve Representative Arthur Handy's bill.

The proposed legislation now moves to the Senate, where Democratic leaders remain opposed but have promised to hold a committee hearing.

Ken Fish, 70, who watched the proceedings from the viewing gallery, called the vote “history in the making” in comments to the AP.

Marriage legislation has been introduced every year in Rhode Island since 1997. Thursday's vote marks the first time the issue has received a vote in either the House or Senate.

Rep. Handy had accumulated 42 sponsors for his bill going into the debate. That is, an additional 9 House members joined in voting for the measure, a move which should hearten supporters as the bill heads to the Senate.

As of last week, only 11 senators had signed on to the measure in the 38-member Senate.

Rhode Island became the only New England state without marriage equality after Maine voters in November approved a referendum on the issue. The state currently recognizes gay couples with civil unions.