Cathedral officials tell The Associated Press the church will be among the first Episcopal congregations to implement a new rite of marriage for gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender members. The church will announce its new policy Wednesday.
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 in December 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.
"I think that what we're going to see is both a diocese and a Cathedral that are going to be in decline in the coming years. That's certainly what we've seen in the past ten [years], and I don't see how it's going to change if all they're doing is capitulating to the cultural mores that surround them."
- Jeff Walton, Institute on Religion & Democracy (Washington, DC)
"I read the Bible as seriously as fundamentalists do," Hall told the AP. "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. Church debate is largely settled on the matter, allowing for local decisions, he said. The move is also a chance to influence the nation.
"As a kind of tall-steeple, public church in the nation's capital, by saying we're going to bless same-sex marriages, conduct same-sex marriages, we are really trying to take the next step for marriage equality in the nation and in the culture," Hall said.
It will likely be six months to a year before the first gay marriages are performed at the cathedral due to its busy schedule and its pre-marital counseling requirement. Generally, only couples affiliated with the cathedral will be eligible. Church leaders had not received any requests for weddings ahead of Wednesday's announcement.
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 segregation or to push for the ordination of women, Hall said.
The New York-based Episcopal Church is the U.S. body of the 77 million-member Anglican Communion. The House of Bishops voted last year 111-41 to authorize a provisional rite for same-sex unions. Some congregations have left the church over its inclusion of gays and lesbians over the years.
Same-sex marriage is now legal in nine states and the District of Columbia. Legislators in Illinois and Rhode Island are set to take up bills to possibly join them, and the Supreme Court is scheduled to hear cases on gay marriage in March.
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.