Very Rev. Gary Hall, the dean of Washington National Cathedral, announced today that same-sex weddings can now be performed at the cathedral. The cathedral has been designated by congress as the “National House of Prayer” and has been the venue for many U.S. memorial services and funerals, including those for Dwight Eisenhower, Ronald Reagan, and the victims of the September 11, 2001 attacks.
“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.”
Same-sex marriage ceremonies performed at the cathedral will use a rite adapted from an existing blessing ceremony the Episcopal Church approved last year, which allows individual bishops in each diocese to decide whether or not to allow the rite to be used for same-sex marriage. The bishop overseeing Washington D.C. chose to allow same-sex marriage using the rite just last month.
“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,” said Hall. “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.
“Matters of human sexual identity and questions about the Church’s role in blessing lifelong, committed relationships between its members are serious issues around which feelings run high and people of good will can often disagree. It is my hope and prayer that, if all of us open ourselves to the fullness and diversity of our nation’s many voices, we will learn to walk together in a new way as we listen for God’s call to us to be faithful to each other and to God.”
Images of same-sex weddings at the National Cathedral will certainly help illustrate that a tipping-point has already been reached in the U.S., and that same-sex marriage rights (in addition to others) will soon be recognized across the country. There is a catch, however: not everyone can be married at Washington National Cathedral.
At least one member of a couple must be Christian and baptized to be married at the cathedral. Also, “as a general rule,” only active members of the cathedral’s congregation, alumni of it’s schools, big donors to the cathedral, or those judged by Hall “to have played an exceptional role in the life of the nation” are eligible to be married at the cathedral.
So, while the first same-sex marriages performed at the National Cathedral are likely to be small affairs for church members, it’s possible that some well-known LGBT people who have “played an exceptional” role in the U.S. could be married there in the near future.