Washington National Cathedral to host gay weddings

Posted at 01/10/2013 7:31 AM | Updated as of 01/10/2013 7:36 AM

The 106-year-old Washington National Cathedral, the site of presidential funerals and Martin Luther King's last sermon, will host same-sex weddings, the cathedral's dean announced on Wednesday.

Describing it as "another historic step toward greater equality," the Rev. Gary Hall said the decision was made after the passing of same-sex marriage laws in the District of Columbia, where the church is based, and Maryland in November.

"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," Hall said in a statement.

The cathedral belongs to the Episcopal Church, an Anglican Christian denomination that approved a new rite for the blessing of same-sex couples in August last year. Bishops were also allowed to decide whether to adapt that rite for same-sex weddings in states where they have been legalized.

Other Christian denominations and religious groups have opposed the idea of allowing gay and lesbian couples to marry.

John Eastman, chairman of the board of the National Organization for Marriage, which opposes same-sex marriage, called the move "unfortunate" and described the church's leadership as being "cavalier with their interpretation of the Bible."

The Human Rights Campaign, which describes itself as the nation's largest gay-rights group, applauded the move.

"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," the Rev. MacArthur Flournoy, deputy director of the group's Religion and Faith Program, said in a statement, referring to lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender Episcopalians.

It was unclear when the first same-sex wedding might take place at the cathedral. Generally only couples affiliated with the cathedral in some way will be eligible to marry there, the announcement said.

Nine of the 50 U.S. states and Washington, D.C. have legalized gay marriage. Another 31 states have passed constitutional amendments banning it. The Supreme Court was due to hear oral arguments in March in a pair of cases challenging laws that ban same-sex unions.

The idea for a national cathedral began with President George Washington in 1791, though it was not granted a charter from Congress until a century later, according to the cathedral's website.

Presidents have attended numerous special events there over the years, and Dwight Eisenhower (1969), Ronald Reagan (2004) and Gerald Ford (2007) were eulogized there, the website said. (Reporting by Jonathan Allen; Editing by Daniel Trotta and Carol Bishopric)