By Ben Brumfield, CNN
(CNN) — When laws went into effect in three states for same-sex couples to marry, many were quick to line up at their city halls to exchange vows. Now they may do so in one of the nation’s most prominent churches — the Washington National Cathedral.
Most Americans know the house of God, also called the Cathedral Church of St. Peter and St. Paul, as a place where sacred rites are carried out on behalf of the nation. It has been host to the funerals of numerous presidents and of inaugural prayer services for four presidents, including Barack Obama.
But it is also an active house of worship in the Episcopalian Church, said the Cathedral’s dean, Gary Hall. The denomination has developed a blessing rite that mirrors current wedding ceremonies for heterosexual couples and allows each bishop to decide to allow same-sex marriages in their churches or not.
Bishop Mariann Budde decided to allow the rite, since same-sex marriage is legal in the District of Columbia and now in neighboring Maryland as well, Hall said.
It was Budde’s decision that led Hall to create the same-sex rite.
He sees it as “another historic step toward greater equality.”
The states of Washington, Maine and Maryland all legalized same-sex marriages in referendums during the 2012 general election. It was already legal in the nation’s capital.
In March, the Supreme Court will hear oral arguments in two appeals cases related to same-sex marriage — California’s Proposition 8, which bans same-sex marriage and the federal Defense of Marriage Act, which denies federal benefits to same-sex couples.
The American Episcopal Church is intimately connected with the Church of England, which last week approved the advancement of male priests in same-sex committed relationships to the position of bishop. But those relationships must be celibate.
City halls in Baltimore, Portland, Maine, and Seattle erupted in celebration as the first same sex couples tied the knot in December and January. Seattle’s ceremony included 133 couples, who walked outside and down rain-slickened steps afterwards, where they were greeted by cheers, confetti and a brass band celebrating the first day same-sex couples could marry in Washington.
To wed at the National Cathedral, one member of the couple must be baptized into the Church, and both must commit to a Christian marriage of “lifelong faithfulness, love, forbearance and mutual comfort.”