Thousands of gay and lesbian couples are expected to take advantage of new civil unions which will be legal in the US state of New Hampshire from tomorrow.

Governor John Lynch signed the civil unions bill into law in May. It will come into force on January 1st 2008.

The bill previously passed the state’s House of Representatives by a margin of 2 to 1.

In April the state Senate approved the bill by 14 votes to 10.

“We in New Hampshire have had a long and proud tradition taking the lead and opposing discrimination,” Governor Lynch said after signing the bill.

“Today that tradition continues.”

The Episcopalian Bishop of New Hampshire, Gene Robinson, who is openly gay, gave evidence to the state legislature supporting same-sex unions.

“This legislation simply has nothing do to with religious bodies and their affirmation or rejection of such unions in the civil realm,” Bishop Robinson told a state committee hearing.

“What we seek in the civil realm is the equal treatment by the state government in supporting this development of our relationship with the legal, financial, and societal underpinnings which are afforded married couples at the very moment they say ‘I do.'”

Bishop Robinson also announced he intends to form a civil union with his partner.

Massachusetts has legal same-sex marriage and California, Vermont, New Jersey, and Connecticut have allowed some form of civil unions or domestic partnerships.