New Castle County Clerk of the Peace Ken Boulden has announced he'll open Sunday, January 1, the first day Delaware's civil union law takes effect, the Newark Post reported.

The law is the state's first to recognize the unions of gay and lesbian couples. It takes effect at 10AM on January 1, 2012. However, government offices are scheduled to be closed on January 1 and on January 2 for the New Year holiday.

Boulden said he would issue licenses by appointment only.

The law, signed by Governor Jack Markell in May, makes Delaware the fifth state to recognize gay couples with civil unions behind Illinois, Rhode Island, New Jersey and Hawaii. Other states, including California and Washington, offer similar legal protections to gay couples as domestic partnerships.

Delaware lawmakers made quick work of the bill last spring, going from introduction to passage in the Legislature in just over 3 weeks. By contrast, Hawaii and Illinois proponents suffered years of setbacks before a civil union law was approved in each state. New Jersey adopted civil unions only after a mandate from the state's highest court. In Rhode Island, civil unions were legalized after lawmakers decided that a marriage bill would fail to clear the Senate.