New York City Council yesterday elected its first woman and first openly gay speaker.

Christine Quinn, a 39-year-old Democrat, becomes the second highest-ranking official in the city after the mayor, Michael Bloomberg.

The role of the speaker is to act as a check and balance to the executive authority of the mayor. It is, in effect, a similar position to the chairman of the London Assembly.

Ms Quinn was elected by a unanimous vote of the 51-member chamber, with one councillor abstaining.

In her acceptance speech Ms Quinn wept several times, thanking her father and her partner, Kim Catullo who were sitting in the public gallery.

“Let me say that I am incredibly proud that in the most diverse city in the world, diversity is seen as a strength, and not an impediment,” Ms Quinn told the meeting.

The political advocacy group, Gay and Lesbian Victory Fund estimate that Ms Quinn is one of 350 openly gay men and women currently serving in public office. The group’s spokesman, Dave DeCicco said that Ms Quinn’s election: “is a testament to the skill and passion that the gay community can offer in the public arena, and that sexual orientation should never be a barrier.”

The mayor of New York has stated that his administration is looking forward to working with Ms Quinn.