Cathedral’s same-sex marriage decision renews old debate, but doesn’t end it

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Dawne Moon, an assistant professor of sociology at Marquette University, said the National Cathedral’s announcement “might be the straw that breaks the camel’s back for a few conservative members who have been holding on.”

“But I think people have probably figured out what side of the debate they’re on by now and have either left the church or found a way to live within it,” she said.

What the polls say

A poll conducted in November by the Pew Research Center’s Forum on Religion and Public Life showed that 48 percent of Americans backed same-sex marriages, compared with 35 percent in 2001.

Another poll taken in 2011 among Protestants, Catholics and people who are religiously unaffiliated, showed that in 2011, 46 percent of surveyed people said they were in favor of same-sex marriage.

While 72 percent of people who identified themselves as unaffiliated with any religious denomination said they were in favor of same-sex marriage, 52 percent of Catholics expressed support and 34 percent of Protestants did.

“While the [Episcopal] leaders here in D.C. made the decision early, in order to allow this go forward, it’s not necessarily reflective of the diocese, even in the United States, much less globally,” Pew research associate Besheer Mohamed said.

Struggles of other churches

Other denominations also are struggling to maintain unity when it comes to homosexuality and same-sex marriage.

The Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) restated its stance that marriage was a union between a man and a woman, but the church’s highest judicial body allowed ministers to oversee same-sex unions as long as the ceremonies were not considered marriages.

In May, the 57-church Presbytery of Tropical Florida lost nine churches and roughly 30 percent of its membership after it began allowing non-celibate homosexual men and women to be priests or deacons.

The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reported in July that more than 180 congregations had left the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) since 2007 for the Evangelical Presbyterian Church. A survey by Presbyterian Outlook magazine showed that an additional 800 churches across the country were considering leaving the denomination if it permitted same-sex marriage.

Richard Weinberg, a spokesman for the National Cathedral, said that in terms of the cathedral’s own congregation, the decision would be “welcome and celebrated news. But we recognize there will be people who disagree with us.”

For the Charleston-based Episcopal Diocese of South Carolina, the denomination’s policy change on same-sex marriage last summer was the tipping point, prompting the 70-church diocese to leave in November.

The amendment boils down to “permission to ignore the rules,” said Kendall Harmon, canon theologian for the diocese. “That’s not something that should be celebrated.”

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