The Washington National Cathedral, where the US gathers to mourn tragedies and celebrate new presidents, will soon begin performing same-sex marriages.
Cathedral officials say the church is to be among the first Episcopal congregations to implement a new rite of marriage for gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender members. The church was to announce its new policy yesterday.
As the US’ most prominent church, the decision carries huge symbolism. The 106-year-old cathedral has long been a spiritual center for the nation, hosting presidential inaugural services and funerals for former US presidents Ronald Reagan and Gerald Ford. It draws hundreds of thousands of visitors.
In light of the legality of same-sex marriage in the District of Columbia and now Maryland, Mariann Edgar Budde, the Episcopal bishop of Washington, decided last month 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 unions.
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,” Hall said. “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.”
Celebrating same-sex weddings is important beyond the Episcopal Church, Hall said. The move is also a chance to influence the nation.
Hall is the 10th dean of the cathedral and has been an ordained minister for more than 35 years. He said he began performing same-sex blessings in 1990 at All Saints Church in Pasadena, California.
It will likely be six months to a year before the first gay marriages are performed at the cathedral because of its busy schedule and its pre-marital counseling requirement. Generally, only couples affiliated with the cathedral will be eligible.
While Hall does not expect any objections within the National Cathedral congregation, he said the change may draw criticism from outside. It may be divisive for some, just as it was to preach against racial segregation, Hall said.
The first same-sex wedding performed last month at West Point’s Cadet Chapel drew some protests from conservatives. The National Cathedral is even more visible.
“For us to be able to say we embrace same-sex marriage is a tool for faithful people to live their lives as Christian people,” he said.