The legalisation of gay marriage in Vermont took effect at midnight last night.

Vermont joins New Hampshire, Massachusetts, Connecticut and Iowa to become the fifth American state to officially legalise gay marriage.

The legalisation took place in April after the House voted 100-49, overriding a veto from Jim Douglas, the state governor.

Last night one couple took immediate advantage of the law taking effect by getting married just after midnight. However it is said that only a few couples had applied for marriage licences prior to Tuesday and most will take their time in planning their ceremonies.

The state of Vermont has been a forerunner in the fight for same-sex equality for some years, with the introduction of civil unions in 2000 sparking an influx of gay couples wanting to formalise their partnerships.

However, the news was not welcomed by all. An anti-gay group, Westboro Baptist Church, plans to stage a protest in the state capital Montpellier. The group, known for its slogan of ‘God Hates Fags’ believes that the deaths of American soldiers at war are an act of punishment from God in reaction to America’s growing tolerance of gay partnerships.

Although five US states have legalised gay marriage, it continues to be a contentious issue in many others, most notably in California where the legalisation of gay marriage was reversed. There was a state-wide vote in November 2008 on Proposition 8 which detailed that marriage should only be between a man and woman.

When that was passed, gay groups took the matter to the Supreme Court, in protest at the fact that a public vote was being used to establish human rights laws. But the Supreme Court upheld Proposition 8, leaving hundreds of gay couples who had planned to marry in California in a state of limbo, and outraged at the state’s turnaround.

Members of Equality California are planning to get the issue back on the ballot in 2010, in an attempt to reverse the ban.