The Washington National Cathedral has announced that it will hold same sex-weddings, effective immediately.
The Very Rev. Gary Hall, Dean of Washington National Cathedral, made the announcement now posted on their website:
“Washington National Cathedral has a long history of advancing equality for people of all faiths and perspectives,” said Hall. “The Cathedral is called to serve as a gathering place for the nation in times of significance, but it is also rooted in its role as the most visible faith community within the Episcopal Church. For more than 30 years, the Episcopal Church has prayed and studied to discern the evidence of God’s blessing in the lives of same-sex couples. It is now only fitting that the National Cathedral follow suit. We enthusiastically affirm each person as a beloved child of God—and doing so means including the full participation of gays and lesbians in the life of this spiritual home for the nation.”
Consistent with the canons of the Episcopal Church, the Cathedral will begin celebrating same-sex marriage ceremonies using a rite adapted from an existing blessing ceremony approved in August 2012 by the Church at its General Convention. That approval allowed for the bishops who oversee each diocese within the Church to decide whether or not to allow the rite’s use or to allow celebration of same-sex marriage. In light of the legality of civil marriage for same-sex couples in the District of Columbia and Maryland, the Rt. Rev. Mariann Edgar Budde (whose Episcopal Diocese of Washington includes D.C. and four counties in Maryland), decided in December 2012 to allow this expansion of the sacrament. Hall, as dean of the National Cathedral, ultimately led the Cathedral’s decision and adaptation of the same-sex rite.
“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,” Hall noted. “I consider it a great honor to lead this Cathedral as it takes another historic step toward greater equality—and I am pleased that this step follows the results made clear in this past November’s election, when three states voted to allow same-sex marriage,” he added.
The Washington Post’s Michelle Boorstein writes that this is consistent with the Episcopal Church and yet significant:
In some ways, (the announcement) is unsurprising for a denomination and a diocese that long ago took up the cause of marriage equality. But the cathedral’s stature and the image of same-sex couples exchanging vows in the soaring Gothic structure visited by a half-million tourists each year is symbolically powerful.
The vast majority of houses of worship don’t host blessings or weddings for people of the same gender.
The Episcopal Church, with 2 million members, has been something of an exception, with leadership supporting the ordination of gay clergy and blessings for same-sex couples even as dozens of parishes broke with the denomination over the issue.
The Washington diocese, which includes the District and the Maryland suburbs, has more than 80 parishes, most of which host same-sex blessings. National numbers weren’t immediately available, but longtime observers estimated that more than half of parishes across the denomination host the blessings. Episcopal clergy in Washington have been overseeing blessings for commitment ceremonies for same-sex couples since about the 1980s.
The tradition-loving denomination has recently become more open to same-sex marriage officially as well. This summer, it approved a rite for same-sex blessings; previously, clergy adapted the rite used for heterosexual couples.
Hall said he would have approved the marriages at the cathedral soon anyway but was encouraged by having the formal rite, which he said gives same-sex couples a theologically proper ceremony.
The “heterosexual marriage [ritual] still has some vestiges of patriarchy, with woman being property. There’s hope in same-sex marriage that it is a teachable moment for heterosexual couples. The new rite is grounded in baptism and radical equality of all people before God,” said Hall, who has been blessing ceremonies for same-sex couples for decades. “I’d like to use it for heterosexual weddings because I think it’s so much better than our marriage services.”