The annual meeting of Quakers in York has decided to hold gay marriages.

According to those present, many hugged and burst into tears when the decision was announced.

This makes Quakers, formally known as The Society of Friends, the first mainstream religious group in Britain to officially sanction gay marriage.

Although they now plan to ask the government to make marriage legal for gay couples, they will not ask their registrars to break the law.

A statement from the group read: “We are being led to treat same sex committed relationships in the same way as opposite sex marriages, reaffirming our central insight that marriage is the Lord’s work and we are but witnesses. The question of legal recognition by the state is secondary.”

The group will now arrange a draft revision of the relevant sections of the group’s prayer book and the next edition of Quaker Faith and Practice will be revised so that gay marriages can be “prepared, celebrated, witnessed, recorded and reported to the state, as opposite sex marriages are”.

Quaker meetings, known as Meetings for Sufferings, will ask the government to change the law to recognise marriages performed as legally valid.

Some at the meeting disagreed with the decision and the group said it was “reminded of the need for tenderness” towards dissenters.

Members at the meeting heard personal statements from gay Quakers.

The group said: “These Friends had felt upheld by their meetings in these relationships but regretted that whereas there was a clear, visible path to celebration and recognition for opposite sex couples, the options available for couples of the same sex were not clear and could vary widely between meetings.

“Friends who feel theirs to be an ordinary and private rather than an exotic and public relationship have had to be visible pioneers to get their relationship acknowledged and recorded.”

Anne van Staveren, from Quakers of Britain, told PinkNews.co.uk: “By the time we came to the decision, it wasn’t a decision at all. We were all of one mind, although that is not to say some disagreed. But it was not a vote. All 1,200 people present agreed with it. We went through it paragraph by paragraph. It was amazing seeing people stand up and say ‘I’ve changed my mind’.

“There was no cheering, if you know Quakers you’ll know they are very calm. But people were hugely relieved, it was a historic moment.

“We’re nudging other faiths and the government towards it [gay marriage]. It’s historic, it really is. “