Same-sex marriages will be performed at Washington's National Cathedral effective immediately, officials announced Wednesday.
Saying that the Northwest Washington landmark has played a large part in advancing equality for people of all perspectives, National Cathedral Dean the Very Rev. Gary Hall said that it was time for his church to follow the Episcopal Church's blessing of the lives of same-sex couples.
"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," Rev. Hall said in a statement.
Same-sex marriage was legalized in the District of Columbia in December of 2009. The practice also began in Maryland on Jan. 1.
"I am surprised!," said D.C. resident Olivia Sherman.
Rolf Rykken of D.C. also remarked, "I am kind of surprised."
Hall said the move was also due in part to the recent legalization of same sex marriages in Maryland.
"The church has been praying....this is a natural process that has been going on at least since the 70s," Hall added.
The Episcopal Church, with whom the National Cathedral is affiliated, began blessing same-sex marriage ceremonies last August; an approval that allowed bishops in each diocese to decide whether or not they would begin performing them. In the wake of that decision, Rt. Rev. Mariann Edgar Buddle, who oversees the Diocese of Washington and parts of Maryland, decided to allow the expansion.
"I consider it a great honor to lead this Cathedral as it takes another historic step toward greater equality," Hall said.
In a statement the National Organization for Marriage, which supports marriage as only a union between a man and a woman, said, "The simplest way to prevent same sex ceremonies in churches is to fight for the recognition of marriage in civil law."
Politics aside, Richard Weinberg, a gay Episcopalian who can now be married inside the cathedral, said the news is beyond symbolic.
"I can say with all sincerity that today is probably the proudest day of my career and ministry thus far," Weinberg said.
Couples who are directly affiliated with the Cathedral as contributing members, as alumni of the Cathedral's schools or have made "significant" volunteer contributions or donations will be eligible to married there. Those who are judged to have played an "exceptional role in the life of the nation" will also be considered to be married at the Cathedral.