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National Cathedral says 'I do' to same-sex nuptials

| Wednesday, Jan. 9, 2013, 7:42 p.m.

WASHINGTON — The Washington National Cathedral had been ready to embrace same-sex marriage for some time, though it took a series of recent events and a new leader for the prominent, 106-year-old church to announce on Wednesday that it would begin hosting such nuptials.

The key development occurred in July when the Episcopal Church approved a ceremony for same-sex unions in its General Convention in Indianapolis, followed by the legalization of gay marriage in Maryland, which joined the District of Columbia. The national church made a special allowance for marriage ceremonies in states where gay marriage is legal.

The Very Rev. Gary Hall, a longtime same-sex marriage advocate, took over as the cathedral's dean in October. Conversations began before he arrived to clear the way for the ceremonies in the church that so often serves as a symbolic house of prayer for national celebrations and tragedies.

The Episcopal bishop of Washington, the Right Rev. Mariann Edgar Budde, authorized use of the new marriage rite in December for 89 congregations in the District of Columbia and Maryland. Each priest then decides whether to marry same-sex couples.

“This was something that was brewing in the cathedral. We were really waiting for him,” Budde said. “It would have been inconceivable for the Cathedral to call somebody who was not in favor of full equality for gay and lesbian people.”

Hall, a former rector at churches in Michigan, Pennsylvania and California and a seminary dean in Chicago, had been a leader in developing liturgical rites for same-sex blessings in the Episcopal Church. Budde said Hall was a catalyst for change in the church's marriage tradition.

Cathedral officials said the church will be among the first Episcopal congregations to implement a new rite of marriage adapted from the blessing ceremony for gay and lesbian couples that was approved last year by the Episcopal Church's national governing body.

Official Episcopal law still defines marriage as between a man and a woman, so the cathedral says it will perform weddings that combine civil marriage ceremonies under local law with a blessing from the church. They will use the new language approved for same-sex couples instead of the marriage ceremony from the Book of Common Prayer. Only one major U.S. Protestant group, the United Church of Christ, has endorsed same-sex marriage outright.

As the nation's most prominent church, the cathedral has long hosted presidential inaugural services and funerals for Ronald Reagan and Gerald Ford. The Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. delivered his last sermon there in 1968. It draws hundreds of thousands of visitors each year.

The Human Rights Campaign, the nation's largest gay rights group, applauded the cathedral's change as a milestone.

“Today, the church sent a simple but powerful message to LGBT Episcopalians — you are loved just the way you are, and for that we embrace you,” said the Rev. MacArthur Flournoy, the deputy director of HRC's religion and faith program.

The conservative National Organization for Marriage, which opposes same-sex marriage, said the cathedral's change was “disappointing but not surprising,” given the direction of the Episcopal Church. In light of the cathedral's national prominence, spokesman Thomas Peters called the marriage announcement “an opportunity for people to wake up to what's happening.”

“It reminds us that marriage is really an all or nothing deal,” he said. “Does America want to retain its marriage tradition or fundamentally give it up?”

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