Gordon D. Fox was elected the state's first openly gay House Speaker on Thursday, the Providence Journal reported.

Fox was widely considered the front-runner in a three man race that included Representative Gregory Schadone, a Democrat from North Providence, and Robert Watson, a Republican from East Greenwich. Fox received the support of nearly three-quarters of the chamber's members.

In an interview with the paper last fall, Fox, who came out publicly in 2004, said he is β€œin a long-term relationship, but not officially married,” and when he does marry, he would like to do it in his home state. Fox's ascension is likely to help make that a reality.

Rhode Island is the only New England state that has not legalized gay marriage. Last year, Maine lawmakers approved a gay marriage bill, but opponents successfully repealed the law after a difficult fight that drew national attention to the state.

But lawmakers in the Ocean State have debated gay marriage for 13 years running.

While Fox has kept mum about whether he would personally shepherd a gay marriage bill in the House, he's certainly in favor of gay marriage, having come out at a rally for proponents.

Rhode Island is following in the steps of the California Assembly, which selected 40-year-old John Perez – an openly gay man – as speaker last month.

Proponents of gay marriage are also counting on flipping the governor's mansion blue next year. Both men seeking the Democratic nomination for Rhode Island governor, along with an Independent candidate, have pledged to sign a gay marriage bill if elected.

Republican Rhode Island Governor Don Carcieri, who is limited to two terms, opposes giving gay and lesbian couples the right to marry.

Fox, 48, began work moments after Democrat William J. Murphy stepped down.