Gay groups are cheering passage of a gay marriage bill on Thursday in Rhode Island.

A debate in the Senate held last week, which had been cast for years as a dead-end for the bill, turned out instead to be friendly, even among Republicans, who unanimously voted in favor of gay nuptials.

On Thursday, the day after changes in the Senate cleared a House committee, the full House approved the amended measure and sent it to Governor Lincoln Chafee, who wasted no time in signing the bill.

Within minutes after passage, hundreds of jubilant supporters joined Chafee on the steps of the Rhode Island State House, which overlooks downtown Providence, for a swiftly organized signing ceremony.

“I am proud to say that now at long last, you are free to marry the person you love,” Chafee told the crowd.

On August 1, the day the law takes effect, Rhode Island will no longer be the lone New England state without marriage equality.

“Today Rhode Island – and now all of New England – has embraced the freedom to marry and live up to our American promise of liberty and justice for all,” Marc Solomon, national campaign director of Freedom to Marry, said in a statement. “That the entire Rhode Island Senate GOP caucus joined with a vast majority of Democratic lawmakers to live up to the state's values in voting for marriage will inspire more momentum in more states. It is time now for the Supreme Court to uphold these American values for all loving and committed couples.”

“Thousands of Rhode Islanders have waited and worked hard for many years to ensure that all families would have the respect and recognition that only marriage provides, and today is the culmination of their steadfast commitment to equality,” said Lee Swislow, executive director of GLAD, the Boston-based attorney group which won marriage equality for Massachusetts in 2003.

On Saturday, Rhode Islanders United for Marriage, the coalition of groups which lobbied for passage of the marriage bill, released a video documenting the long struggle for marriage equality in Rhode Island.

With a The Lumineers Ho Hey soundtrack playing in the background, the video breaks in as supporters testify in favor of the bill.

“I say choose love,” sixth-grader Matthew Lannon is seen telling lawmakers. (The video is embedded on this page. Visit our video library for more videos.)

Lannon stood next to Chafee as he signed the bill into law on Thursday.