The Washington National Cathedral, seat of the Episcopal church and one of the nation's most iconic religious institutions, announced Wednesday that it will begin performing same-sex weddings.

The Episcopal Church's Diocese of Washington decided to begin performing the ceremonies in December, just a month after Maryland joined the District in legalizing same-sex marriage. The diocese includes both jurisdictions.

"In my 35 years of ordained ministry, some of the most personally inspiring work I have witnessed has been among gay and lesbian communities where I have served," Rev. Gary Hall, dean of the cathedral, said in a statement. "I consider it a great honor to lead this Cathedral as it takes another historic step toward greater equality."

The Episcopal church already allows the blessing of same-sex couples, but its decision to allow wedding services to be performed at the historic cathedral provides a powerful symbol for those pushing to legalize gay marriage nationwide. Hall said it could be six months to a year before the first same-sex wedding is performed.

The Episcopal church's gradual embrace of gays and lesbians has pushed some of its members to break away from the church in recent years, including several conservative congregations in neighboring Northern Virginia.

Hall told the Associated Press that he has been performing same-sex blessings in California since 1990.

"I read the Bible as seriously as fundamentalists do," 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."