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Washington National Cathedral to celebrate same-sex weddings

Kevin Lamarque / Reuters

The National Cathedral is seen after a crane collapsed from the building in Washington Sept. 7, 2011.

Same-sex weddings may now be celebrated at the Washington National Cathedral, making the church that holds presidential inaugural prayer services one of the first Episcopal congregations to use a rite adapted from an existing blessing ceremony approved last summer.

“Washington National Cathedral has a long history of advancing equality for people of all faiths and perspectives,” the Very Rev. Gary Hall, dean of Washington National Cathedral, said in a news release Wednesday.

"For more than 30 years, the Episcopal Church has prayed and studied to discern the evidence of God’s blessing in the lives of same-sex couples," he added. "We enthusiastically affirm each person as a beloved child of God — and doing so means including the full participation of gays and lesbians in the life of this spiritual home for the nation.”

The 106-year-old cathedral draws hundreds of thousands of visitors, hosting presidential inaugural services, including for Ronald Reagan, George Bush and Barack Obama, and funerals for Ronald Reagan and Gerald Ford.

The diocese covers the district and four counties in Maryland, where same-sex marriage is legal. The Rt. Rev. Mariann Edgar Budde, the Episcopal bishop of Washington, decided in December to allow an expansion of the Christian marriage sacrament. Hall, who has been an ordained minister for more than 35 years, ultimately led the cathedral’s decision and adaptation of the same-sex rite. He told The Associated Press he began performing same-sex blessings in 1990 when he served at All Saints Church in Pasadena, Calif.

“I consider it a great honor to lead this Cathedral as it takes another historic step toward greater equality—and I am pleased that this step follows the results made clear in this past November’s election, when three states voted to allow same-sex marriage,” Hall said in the news release.

Weddings at the cathedral will be conducted as Christian marriages, so at least one person in the couple must have been baptized. According to the news release, only couples directly affiliated with the life of the cathedral as members of the congregation, alumni, volunteers, donors or those judged by the dean to have played an exceptional role in the life of the nation are eligible to be married at the cathedral.

It will likely be six months to a year before the first gay marriages are performed at the cathedral due to its busy schedule and its pre-marital counseling requirement, the AP said.

At its General Convention last summer, the U.S. Episcopal Church became the biggest church in the United States to approve a provisional rite for blessing gay unions.

The Episcopal Church is an independent U.S.-based church affiliated with the worldwide Anglican Communion. The church has about 2 million members, most in the United States.

Same-sex marriage is now legal in nine states and the District of Columbia. Illinois and Rhode Island are also set to take up bills to possibly join them, and the Supreme Court is scheduled to hear cases on gay marriage in March.

But Hall told the AP he sees marriage as a human issue, not a political issue.

"It is my hope and prayer that, if all of us open ourselves to the fullness and diversity of our nation’s many voices, we will learn to walk together in a new way as we listen for God’s call to us to be faithful to each other and to God,” Hall said in the news release.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.