Mere hours after the U.S. Supreme Court announced two rulings that ease the way for same-sex marriage, the Very Rev. Gary Hall of Washington National Cathedral led “A Service of Thanksgiving: Celebrating an Increase in Compassion and Equality.” The cathedral’s carillon bells pealed midday in response to the rulings.
The cathedral dean called the service, which was scheduled a week before the rulings, one of “reflection and hope.”
The victory same-sex advocates had sought was not total: the Supreme Court ruling did leave in place a provision of DOMA giving states the right to define marriage, which likely means vigorous challenges will continue in state courts. In a related Supreme Court case on Proposition 8 the justices took a procedural pass and effectively made no ruling, which marriage-equality advocates hailed as a victory.
Hall, who spoke for gay rights in March at the Supreme Court, hailed the DOMA decision as ushering in “a new era for our country,” one which grants “federal recognition and protection” to married lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender Americans.
The rousing opening song at Wednesday’s service was “Come, All You People.” In welcoming several hundred worshipers to the service, Hall said, “Well, it’s a great night, isn’t it?” The congregation rose in ovation, and several people waved colorful marriage-equality flags. Some same-sex couples at the service wore wedding rings (same-sex marriage is legal in the District of Columbia).
The prayers were chosen to emphasize the unity of God’s family, including this one: “God of love: you challenge us to widen the boundaries of our hearts. You know us better than we know ourselves: the distinctions we make, the favoritism we practice, the ways we live as impediments to your mercy. Continue to come among us as presence, as light, as life.”
There was also a prayer for church discernment from the Book of Common Prayer: “Gracious God, we pray for your holy Church. … Where it is corrupt, purify it; where it is in error, direct it; where in anything it is amiss, reform it.”
In his reflection during the service, Hall said that when he and his wife, Kathleen, were married 35 years ago at a small church in New England, one of the readings was Ephesians 3:14-19, which refers to “the Father, from whom every family in heaven and on earth takes its name.”,
“I have thought about this passage virtually every day of our married life,” Hall said. “In the Bible’s view of things, something deep and precious and holy is going on when two people commit themselves and their future to each other.”
Hall said the Church has “only been in the marrying business for about a thousand years.” “We people of faith have been on a long trajectory in our understanding of marriage — from polygamy at the outset, to an unequal relationship between a man and a woman, to a more mutual and equal pairing of opposite sex people,” Hall said. “Today the Supreme Court of the United States made two landmark decisions that will take this trajectory several steps further. So tonight we stand together on the threshold of a new era, a time when our civil understanding of marriage begins to catch up with our theological vision of what God is up to when human beings unite with each other in love, compassion, justice, commitment and love.”
He added: “We are now at a place where we are beginning to see, together, that the sacrament of marriage is a divine gift on offer to everybody, regardless of sexual orientation. We are all part of that One from whom every family in heaven and earth takes its name. … Today’s decisions will shine as one of many moments when faithful men and women have seen the possibilities of a divine love that will not let us go.”
Hall told TLC that he had anticipated the Supreme Court would “step back from Proposition 8.” But, he said, he was not sure that the highest court in the land would rule that Section 3 of DOMA was unconstitutional for same-sex couples.
Hall said he would like to see “other faith communities take up the conversation about human sexuality” as the Episcopal Church has done.
The Rev. Canon Michele Hagans, who participated as a reader in the cathedral service, told TLC: “As we as children of God love all people, we’ve now had the government get out of the way of that.”
The Rev. Robert Harvey, rector of Church of Our Saviour in Silver Spring, Maryland, was among the Episcopal priests attending the service. “I stand in solidarity with the Episcopal Church and churches that support marriage equality,” he said. “That’s what Jesus calls us to do: to love everyone. I’m proud to support marriage equality.”
Also attending was the Rev. Shawn Brandon, a Lutheran pastor serving a three-month sabbatical pastorate at All Saints Lutheran Church in Bowie, Maryland. Noting that congregations of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America are free to call gay and lesbian pastors, he told TLC. “Given what happened today, it just felt like there was no better place to celebrate than to come here with my daughter and my husband.”
Image: Washington National Cathedral at Dusk by Bjohnston024 (Own work), via Wikimedia Commons