Massachusetts backs gay marriage
Canada has legalised gay marriage
The US state of Massachusetts has ruled that same-sex couples are legally entitled to marry.
Massachusetts could become the first state to recognise gay marriage.
But the Supreme Judicial Court stopped short of ordering that marriage licences be issued to seven gay couples who challenged the law.
Gay marriage is banned in the US, but one state, Vermont, has enacted a law which gives same-sex couples the rights of traditional marriages.
The Massachusetts court ruled that barring same-sex couples from the benefits of civil marriage was "unconstitutional."
Courts in Hawaii, Alaska and Vermont have made similar rulings, yet gay marriage remains illegal.
Earlier this year, the US Supreme Court overturned a ban on sodomy in Texas, essentially making it illegal for any state legislature to outlaw gay sex.
In November, the country's first openly gay bishop was formally consecrated in New Hampshire.
Bishop Gene Robinson has a long-term male partner, and his appointment has divided the Anglican Communion worldwide.
Conservative groups and politicians opposed to homosexuality have been pressing for a constitutional amendment that would ban same-sex marriages outright.
The bill, which has 96 sponsors in the House of Representatives, seeks to enshrine marriage as a union exclusively between one man and one woman, and would make same-sex unions a legal impossibility.
Gay marriages are legal in neighbouring Canada.