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to Section One | to Arts & Entertainment
posted Friday, January 11, 2013 - Volume 41 Issue 2
A shrine to equality - Washington National Cathedral to host Gay and Lesbian weddings
Arts & Entertainment
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A shrine to equality - Washington National Cathedral to host Gay and Lesbian weddings

by Mike Andrew - SGN Staff Writer

Washington, D.C.'s historic National Cathedral - the traditional host for presidential prayer services, funerals, and memorial services - announced January 9 that it would begin hosting same-sex weddings.

The imposing Gothic Revival church is more than 100 years old. Construction began in 1907, with then-President Teddy Roosevelt laying the cornerstone, and it has been designated by Congress as the 'National House of Prayer.'

It is also the headquarters for the Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church in the U.S., Katharine Jefferts Schori, and the Bishop of the Diocese of Washington, Mariann Edgar Budde.

SYMBOLIC IMPORTANCE
'[I]t's something for us to say we are going to do this in this very visible space, where we pray for the president and where we bury leaders,' said the Very Rev. Gary Hall, who became dean of the National Cathedral in the fall. 'This national spiritual space is now a place where [LGBT] people can come and get married.'

Hall added that the church's decision to celebrate same-sex marriages is a recognition of its many LGBT members.

'We have a lot of Gay and Lesbian Christians,' Hall said.

'What the National Cathedral is saying by doing this is that we want to give faithful Lesbian, Bisexual, Gay, and Transgender people the same tools for living their lives faithfully that straight people have always had, and marriage is one of those tools. This comes out of even more of a theological understanding, for me, than it does out of a political agenda.'

ECUMENICAL ROOTS
While it is an Episcopal church, the Washington National Cathedral has long been the site for non-denominational services of national significance. During World War II, for example, the church held monthly prayer services attended by President Roosevelt, his cabinet, and members of Congress.

The cathedral was also used for the funerals of former Presidents Dwight Eisenhower, Ronald Reagan, and Gerald Ford, and memorials for five other presidents.

The Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. delivered what turned out to be the final Sunday sermon of his life from the pulpit of the church just days before his assassination. A memorial service was held for him there later the same week.

The cathedral also hosted a national memorial service for the victims of the September 11, 2001 terrorist attack on the World Trade Center.

HISTORIC FIRSTS
Bishop Schori is the first woman elected presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church. In 2003, as Bishop of Nevada, she voted to affirm the election of the first openly Gay U.S. Episcopal bishop, Gene Robinson of New Hampshire, and she has been a longtime advocate for marriage equality.

When she was chosen as presiding bishop, conservative bishops asked the Archbishop of Canterbury, head of the worldwide Anglican Communion of which the Episcopal Church is a part, to be placed under an independent administration. Many of them subsequently separated from the church in opposition to the ordination of women and LGBT people.

SAME-SEX BLESSING OK'D
The Episcopal Church voted to authorize an official service for blessing same-sex couples at their national convention last summer.

Three years ago, even before there was an officially sanctioned service, the cathedral held a private wedding ceremony for a Gay couple on its staff, a cathedral source told the New York Times. John Chane, the previous Bishop of Washington, reportedly presided.

Dean Hall said members of the selection committee that interviewed him for his position last year made it clear that they wanted the cathedral to bless same-sex couples. Since same-sex marriages are legal in the District of Columbia, there is now no obstacle, in either civil law or church practice, to Gay and Lesbian weddings at the Cathedral.

According to the cathedral Web site, weddings at the church are conducted as 'Christian marriages, in which the couple commits to lifelong faithfulness, love, forbearance, and mutual comfort.' At least one person in the couple must be a baptized Christian. Preference is given to those with some kind of direct connection to the cathedral or its schools, or who have 'played an exceptional role in the life of the nation.'

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