The Washington National Cathedral, the massive and iconic church in the nation's capital where inaugural prayers are hosted and presidents are laid to rest, will now hold same-sex marriages. Melissa Block speaks with Rev. Gary Hall, dean of the Cathedral, about the change in policy.
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MELISSA BLOCK, HOST:
Another milestone for same-sex marriage. Today, the Washington National Cathedral announced it will begin celebrating same-sex weddings. The soaring, neogothic cathedral has hosted presidential funerals, and prayer services for presidential inaugurations. Now, the dean of the cathedral, the Very Rev. Gary Hall, says his church will enthusiastically affirm each person as a beloved child of God, through the sacramental blessings of Christian marriage.
And Rev. Hall joins me from his office in the National Cathedral. Rev. Hall, welcome to the program.
THE VERY REV. GARY HALL: Thank you so much.
BLOCK: 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 the - 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.
BLOCK: Rev. Hall, I gather that it was last year that the Episcopal bishops approved the rite 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...
BLOCK: How so?
HALL: So, well - you know, 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.
BLOCK: Rev. 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.
BLOCK: 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 of Washington - and within the National Cathedral, as a faith community - that this is the right step.
BLOCK: Well, Rev. Hall, thanks so much for talking with us.
HALL: Oh, you're very welcome. It's been a pleasure.
BLOCK: That's Rev. Gary Hall. He's dean of the Washington National Cathedral; talking about his decision to host same-sex weddings there.
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