Same-sex couples across the country were celebrating today after taking advantage of a new law to become legally married.

One of the first gay couples to be married as soon as the law allowed were actor Andrew Wale, 49, and guesthouse owner Neil Allard, 48, who wed at the Royal Pavilion in Brighton just after midnight.

They were among a number of gay couples vying for the title of being the first to be married as ceremonies took place across the country.

The pair, who live in Brighton and have been together for seven years, had told Brighton and Hove City Council it would be a "privilege" to be the first same-sex couple to be married at a place which features in their daily lives and was the backdrop to their early dates.

Wearing matching suits, they arrived at the pavilion by car at about 11.30pm and stopped at the main entrance to pose for photos for the waiting media.

David Cameron hailed the introduction of gay marriages in England and Wales as "historic".

The Prime Minister said: "Congratulations to the gay couples who have already been married - and my best wishes to those about to be on this historic day."

More than 2,000 people and a host of famous faces gathered to see comedian Sandi Toksvig and her partner Debbie renew their wedding vows at a public ceremony on London's South Bank.

The couple, who first entered into a civil partnership seven years ago, were joined by members of the public and friends as they exchanged vows on stage with their four children at the Royal Festival Hall.

The Radio 4 News Quiz presenter described the day as a "an astonishing moment in history".

In a speech, an emotional Toksvig said: "There was many a time I thought this day would never come."

Speaking of her partner, she said: "We're still crazy about each other. I can't believe my luck - look how gorgeous she is. I want a piece of paper to say she won't ever leave me."

A host of famous faces attended, including comedian Phill Jupitus, fashion guru Mary Portas, activist Peter Tatchell and actor Christopher Biggins.

Toksvig's friend and actress Sheila Hancock read Maya Angelou's poem, Touched By An Angel, along with Debbie's daughter - who also did a reading.

Civil partnerships were introduced in Britain in 2004. The Government has said they can be converted to marriages by the end of the year, according to Culture Secretary Maria Miller.

Writing in Pink News, Ms Miller said: "I'm very much aware that there are couples who are already in a civil partnership and who may be disappointed that they will have to wait a little longer to be able to convert to a marriage.

"I'd like to reassure them that we are working hard to ensure that this process is in place by the end of year. It's taking longer because we need to introduce completely new procedures and processes."

Rainbow flags were hung all over the country to celebrate today's occasion, with one flying at the heart of Westminster.

The flag - adopted as a symbol of the gay community in 1970s San Francisco - was being flown above the Cabinet Office and Scotland Office.

Peter McGraith and David Cabreza were another couple to take advantage of the new legislation as soon as they possibly could.

Ahead of their ceremony at Islington Town Hall today Mr McGraith said: "We are thrilled to be getting married. It is a mark of significant social progress in the UK that the legal distinction between gay and straight relationships has been removed.

"Very few countries afford their gay and lesbian citizens equal marriage rights and we believe that this change in law will bring hope and strength to gay men and lesbians in Nigeria, Uganda, Russia, India and elsewhere, who lack basic equality and are being criminalised for their sexual orientation."

The Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Act came into force in July last year but it was not until March 13 this year when couples were able to register their intention to marry under the Act for the first time.

Ruth Hunt, acting chief executive for charity Stonewall, which campaigns for lesbian, gay and bisexual equality, said: "The first same sex marriages in England and Wales are a truly historic moment.

"These weddings will send a powerful signal to every young person growing up to be lesbian, gay or bisexual - you can be who you are and love who you love, regardless of your sexual orientation.

"It's thanks to the dedication of activists and politicians from across the political spectrum that we can at long last say that lesbian, gay and bisexual people are equal under the law."

Jude Kelly, artistic director of the Southbank Centre, said: "It is an extraordinary thing that the rainbow flag is flying in Westminster."

She added: "It's entirely fitting that we have chosen to mark this significant event this year - both with Sandi and Debbie Toksvig renewing their vows in a public event on the first day this becomes law, and during the summer with our Festival of Love, which will culminate in a mass wedding weekend for all couples to exchange vows."