Wed January 9, 2013
National Cathedral Hopes To Set Example By Performing Same-Sex Marriages
Originally published on Wed January 9, 2013 5:31 pm
AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:
Another milestone for same-sex marriage. Today, the Washington National Cathedral announced it will begin celebrating same-sex weddings. The soaring neo-gothic cathedral has hosted presidential funerals and prayer services for presidential inaugurations. Now, the dean of the cathedral, the very Reverend Gary Hall, says his church will enthusiastically affirm each person as a beloved child of God to the sacramental blessings of Christian marriage.
And Reverend Hall joins me from his office in the National Cathedral. Reverend Hall, welcome to the program.
REVEREND GARY HALL: Thank you so much.
CORNISH: There are many other Episcopal churches that have already taken this step. How significant or symbolic do you think it is for the National Cathedral to follow suit?
HALL: Oh, I think that we are the most visible congregation faith community in the Episcopal Church. And so I think for us to take this stand really says something about where not only Episcopal Church is, but where kind of the culture is going. And we are also cognizant of the fact that we have a role in the spiritual life of the nation that in some ways transcends our role as an Episcopal Church institution.
And so we're very aware also that this is a moment where we can really witness to marriage equality in a way that's calling other faith communities to do it as well.
CORNISH: Reverend Hall, I gather that it was last year that the Episcopal bishops approved the right for same-sex marriage, the language to be used at these ceremonies. How different is it from the language for heterosexual marriage, apart from the obvious gender references?
HALL: One of the things I think that same-sex marriage has to teach straight people is about the possibility of a totally equal and mutual relationship before God. Our marriage service that's in our prayer book, which, you know, has been revised several times since 1549, carries with it the vestiges of a patriarchal society, so...
CORNISH: How so?
HALL: So, well, for example, handing the bride over to the groom, the vows in the prayer book up until 1928 were love, honor and obey for the woman. As much as we've tried to revise our marriage service to make everything equal and mutual, it still has with it some connotations and vestiges of pre-modern ways of understanding male/female relationships.
I think one of the ways in which gay and lesbian couples really can teach something to straight couples is the way in which they hold up the possibility of an absolute equality and mutuality in marriage. And so, this new rite, it's entirely different than the old marriage service, it's really grounded in baptism and the idea of a radical equality of all people in Christ and before God.
CORNISH: Reverend Hall, you're quite new to the Washington National Cathedral, but I've read that you have been performing same-sex blessings for more than 20 years now. What did you learn from that experience?
HALL: I think what I learned from that experience are a couple things. One of them is that I had to learn that, you know, every relationship has its joys and its tensions and the joys and tensions of same-sex couples are both similar to heterosexual joys and tensions, but they're also different. The other thing I'd say that just how much working with gay and lesbian couples has touched me. I've been a priest for 30-some odd years now and I didn't start as a big advocate of same-sex marriage.
What helped me make my way in the issue was really coming to know LGBT people and gay and lesbian couples and being with them in their weddings and being with them at their bedsides when they were sick and baptizing their kids and really understanding that we're all basically one in the human community and that we all basically face the same joys and challenges of life.
CORNISH: Have you been hearing opposition to this decision from members of the congregation or people outside the congregation?
HALL: We've gotten a few cranky and negative emails, none of them from people within our life. There's a really strong consensus both within the Episcopal Church nationally, within the diocese in Washington and within the National Cathedral as a faith community that this is the right step.
CORNISH: Well, Reverend Hall, thanks so much for talking with us.
HALL: Oh, you're very welcome. It's been a pleasure.
CORNISH: That's Reverend Gary Hall. He's dean of the Washington National Cathedral talking about his decision to host same-sex weddings there. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright National Public Radio.