Rhode Island Governor Lincoln Chafee on Saturday signed a civil unions bill into law, the AP reported.

The state becomes the fifth after Illinois, New Jersey, Delaware and Hawaii to recognize gay and lesbian couples with civil unions.

Chafee expressed reservations about the law but added that it would protect thousands of families, saying that the legislation “brings tangible rights and benefits to thousands of Rhode Islanders” and that it “provides a foundation from which we will continue to fight for full marriage equality.”

As a candidate for governor, Chafee said he supported full marriage for gay couples, a position he reiterated during his swearing in ceremony.

A gay marriage bill was shelved in the state after House Speaker Gordon Fox, who is openly gay and a supporter of marriage equality, conceded there wasn't sufficient support in the legislature for the measure.

The compromise failed to mollify either side of the issue. Gay marriage supporters argued that separate is never equal and objected to the bill's broad religious exemptions. Foes argued that civil unions would be used as a steppingstone to marriage. Both groups called on the governor to veto the bill.

The move comes a week after New York became the sixth – and most populous – state to legalize gay marriage.