The Washington National Cathedral, where America gathers to mourn tragedies and celebrate new presidents, will soon begin performing same-sex marriages.

Cathedral officials have told the Associated Press that the church will be among the first Episcopal congregations to implement a new rite of marriage for LGBT members.

As the nation’s most prominent church, the decision carries huge symbolism.

The 106-year-old cathedral has long been a spiritual centre for the nation, hosting presidential inaugural services and funerals for Ronald Reagan and Gerald Ford.

In light of the legality of same-sex marriage in the District of Columbia and now Maryland, the Right Reverend Mariann Edgar Budde, the Episcopal bishop of Washington, decided in December to allow an expansion of the Christian marriage sacrament.

The diocese covers the district and four counties in Maryland. The change is allowed under a “local option” granted by the church’s General Convention, church leaders said.

Each priest in the diocese can then decide whether to perform same-sex marriages.

The Very Reverend Gary Hall, the cathedral’s dean, said performing same-sex marriages is an opportunity to break down barriers and build a more inclusive community “that reflects the diversity of God’s world.”

“I read the Bible as seriously as fundamentalists do,” Reverend Hall told the AP.

“And my reading of the Bible leads me to want to do this because I think it’s being faithful to the kind of community that Jesus would have us be.”

It will likely be six months to a year before the first same-sex marriages are performed at the cathedral due to its busy schedule and its pre-marital counselling requirement.

Generally, only couples affiliated with the cathedral will be eligible.

Church leaders had not received any requests for weddings ahead of Wednesday’s announcement.