Gay couples across the US state of Wisconsin have begun registering for domestic partnerships since new laws came into force on Monday.

Wisconsin is the first mid-western state to pass such a law through legislation, with governor Jim Doyle signing the bill in June. Iowa allowed gay marriage earlier this year through a court ruling.

However, it is thought that the law will give gay couples fewer than 50 of the 200 legal rights available to straight married couples. In November 2006 voters in the state approved a ban on gay marriage.

Benefits they are entitled to include hospital visitation, inheritance and medical leave rights.

Researchers estimate that up to 5,000 gay and lesbian couples will register. The US Census Bureau estimates that 14,000 same-sex couples live in Wisconsin.