In a National Public Radio interview with The Very Rev. Gary Hall, dean of the Washington National Cathedral, he discusses how same gender marriages can inform straight marriages and how those lessons are woven into the new Episcopal rite for blessing same gender couples.
The Washington National Cathedral’s decision to marry same gender couples serves as a call to other faith communities to take a similar stand. The cathedral is not only the most visible faith community in the Episcopal Church, but plays a role in the spiritual life of the nation – a sacred place for our country in times of celebration, crisis, and sorrow.
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.
Rev. Hall did not start his ministry as a strong advocate for same gender marriage. His views changed as he got to know LGBT people.
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.
To learn more about the Episcopal rite blessing same gender couples, read “I Will Bless You and You Will Be a Blessing.”