CHICAGO -- Illinois couples can now get licenses to form a civil union in Illinois.
The state's new law takes effect on Wednesday, allowing gay and lesbian or straight couples to form civil unions, a rough equivalent to marriage.
Civil unions give couples many of the rights that accompany traditional marriage. That includes the power to decide medical treatment for an ailing partner and the right to inherit a partner's property.
Thousands of couples around the state are expected to get licenses, and some counties plan to open offices early to accommodate the crowds.
The first civil union ceremonies can't take place until Thursday.
Cook County Clerk David Orr says it will be "a joyous day for all couples, gay and straight, who want to make history."