The debate over whether to legalize gay marriage in Rhode Island and Maryland returns to the front burner next week.

In Rhode Island, the House Judiciary Committee which is considering the legislation held an eight-and-a-half-hour hearing on the issue early last month and could vote on the measure as early as Thursday, the same day a Senate panel is expected to begin debate on its version of the bill, the Providence Journal reported.

House Speaker Gordon D. Fox said the proposal enjoys “strong support” in the House and that he would like to move along the legislation to make way for debate on the state budget and other issues.

“I'd like to get something done sooner with marriage equality so that we can move on to those discussions,” Fox, who is openly gay, said. “How soon? That's going to depend on how soon I can get done laying my groundwork.”

The Maryland House is expected to take up the gay marriage bill approved two weeks ago by the Senate.

Last week, the bill narrowly escaped the House Judiciary Committee after two members altered their votes.

Backers in the House concede they remain 4 votes shy of the majority needed to send the bill to the governor’s desk, but insist they will win with the help of several on-the-fence lawmakers.

Opponents in Maryland have promised a referendum on the law, if approved by lawmakers.