Washington National Cathedral’s good news for same-sex couples

Columnist

“Yawn” they said, more or less.

Washington National Cathedral, a symbolic home of our nation’s collective soul, the place where we both help inaugurate and eulogize our presidents and celebrate our country’s great achievements, announced this week that it would begin holding same-sex weddings.

Petula is a columnist for The Washington Post's local team who writes about homeless shelters, gun control, high heels, high school choirs, the politics of parenting, jails, abortion clinics, mayors, modern families, strip clubs and gas prices, among other things. View Archive

And folks in and around the cathedral on a cold weekday afternoon hardly blinked.

“Oh. Well, sure,” said Paul Evans, who was visiting Washington from Perth, Australia, snapping pictures of the towering cathedral spires when I interrupted him. “That’s okay. Good for them.”

“That’s fine,” said a student visiting from Texas. “Why not?”

Same-sex marriage status in the U.S., state-by-state

“That’s not news. We all knew it was coming,” said the ladies at the cathedral gift shop.

“They’ve already had some same-sex weddings anyhow,” one of them told me.

Just one wedding, actually.

Three years ago, two employees of the cathedral — horticulturist Joe Luebke and IT professional Tom Wright — stood in their spectacular workplace and were married by then-Bishop John Bryson Chane.

It was a lovely ceremony, with about 200 guests in the great choir, beneath the soaring, vaulted ceilings.

All the guests stood and applauded as Tom and Joe proceeded down the long aisle, said cathedral spokesman Richard Weinberg, who was among the guests.

But that wedding was a private and very quiet event.

Maybe for some of the folks coming to visit the cathedral this week, hearing that an Episcopal church would officially marry same-sex couples — as Episcopal churches across America have been doing for several years now — wasn’t landmark news.

Having read the comments online about the announcement — some of them vulgar and hateful, no better than bathroom graffiti — I thought I might find shock and outrage among the cathedral visitors and headed out to talk to them.

But after a couple of hours of stopping various locals, tourists, students and employees, no one really expressed any great passion about the issue.

And maybe that’s part of the story: It’s just not big news anymore.

Nine states and the District have legalized same-sex marriage.

AGallup poll conducted last month found that 53 percent of Americans support legalizing gay and lesbian unions. With time, that number will grow even stronger, given that among 18- to 29-year-olds, 73 percent support same-sex marriage.

And it has become clear that Americans are growing less tolerant of those who don’t accept gay, lesbian and transgender Americans.

On Thursday, an evangelical pastor from Atlanta — the clergyman who had been chosen to give the benediction at President Obama’s inauguration — withdrew from the ceremony because of a sermon he gave in the 1990s on same-sex marriage. In that sermon, the Rev. Louie Giglio said that allowing same-sex marriage “would run the risk of absolutely undermining the whole order of our society.”

Oh, please.

Churches have done so many things to undermine society over the years, including ancient, bloody crusades and the contemporary, widespread abuse of children.

Honoring the wish to marry expressed by part of a small percentage of the population could only help these floundering institutions.

Remember, we learned from a Pew Research Center Poll in October that the “nones” — folks who associate with no organized denomination — are the fastest-growing group in America. One in five Americans self-identifies as a “none.”

Weddings — especially huge, elaborate weddings big enough to fill hundreds of seats in the imposing National Cathedral — are nothing but good business.

Meagan Kelly, a senior at Georgetown University, had a less cynical take on it. “It’s nice to see that homosexuals can have both now, their lives and their religion,” Kelly said.

That’s true. At the same time, perhaps, we’ve become too accustomed to the front-page photos of gay and lesbian couples embracing in city halls across America, settings no more festive, spiritual or wedding-like than the local DMV. Perhaps, we too easily categorize a same-sex union as a government act, a document and a contract.

But the image that only 200 people got to see — Tom and Joe, walking down the same aisle that many a bridal train has swept, past the sunlight streaming through stained glass, looking like any other couple surrounded by smiles and flowers and organ music — that’s something altogether different. And it is hugely significant for the rest of America.

From now on, same-sex couples can be married in the iconic American cathedral where Woodrow Wilson and Helen Keller are buried, where a stained-glass window holding a lunar rock celebrates our landing on the moon and where we gathered last year to mourn astronaut Neil Armstrong.

This is a place with stained-glass windows dedicated to industrialist Andrew Carnegie and Confederate generals Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson and Robert E. Lee. There is a pulpit carved of stone that was once part of Canterbury Cathedral — the mother church of the worldwide Anglican Communion — and a grotesque, or carving, of Darth Vader.

Washington National Cathedral tells a story of where we, as a nation, have been. And, thanks to this week’s announcement, where we are going.

To read previous Dvorak columns, go to washingtonpost.com/dvorak.

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