WASHINGTON—Evangelical policy groups are not surprised by the Washington National Cathedral’s announcement Wednesday that same-sex “wedding” ceremonies would be allowed at the 106-year old church.
“The Episcopal Church has been increasingly out of touch with Christian orthodoxy and the rest of the Anglican Communion worldwide for some time, and this only adds to that,” said Peter Sprigg of the Washington-based Family Research Council.
Last November, Maryland voters approved a same-sex “marriage” ballot initiative, joining the neighboring District of Columbia in legalizing such unions. In the aftermath of the Maryland ballot result, National Cathedral officials decided to start hosting such ceremonies effective immediately.
“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,” the Rev. Gary Hall, the cathedral’s dean, told the Associated Press.
The cathedral is the seat of The Episcopal Church and its 2 million members in the United States. But it also serves as a place of celebration and mourning for the nation’s larger faith community. It is where the national prayer service for this month’s presidential inauguration will occur, and it has hosted the state funerals for former Presidents Ronald Reagan and Gerald Ford. With hundreds of thousands of visitors to the National Cathedral each year, pro-gay “marriage” groups will herald this decision as a symbolic victory for their movement.
The National Cathedral will offer a new rite of “marriage” for gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender members that The Episcopal Church’s House of Bishops authorized last year. The decision to use the new rite and the performing of same-sex “marriage” ceremonies is left to the discretion of the bishops overseeing each diocese within the larger church. The bishop of Washington, in charge of a diocese that covers the District of Columbia and four counties in Maryland, decided last month to allow the new expanded “marriage” rite. Last year, the bishops also voted to allow the ordination of transgendered persons. Such decisions have led some conservative Episcopal congregations to leave the denomination.
The move by the National Cathedral comes one month after the first same-sex “wedding” performed at Cadet Chapel at the U.S. Military Academy in West Point, N.Y. In November, voters in Maine and Washington joined Maryland to become the first three states to approve a ballot initiative legalizing gay “marriage.” While same-sex “marriage” is now legal in nine states and the District of Columbia, the U.S. Supreme Court is scheduled to hear cases on the issue in March.
“We still have voter referendums in 30 states, including North Carolina last year, that define marriage as between a man and a woman,” said Sprigg. “That’s a very strong statement of public policy that will not be overturned anytime soon.”