WASHINGTON, D.C., January 10, 2013 (LifeSiteNews.com) – Washington National Cathedral, which has long been called “the nation’s church” for its prominent role in the religious life of presidents, lawmakers and other famous leaders, will begin celebrating same-sex “marriages” effective immediately, officials said Wednesday.

The Cathedral will be among the first Episcopal churches to begin celebrating a new rite of “marriage” for its homosexual members added by Bishop Mariann Edgar Budde of the Washington diocese in December. Budde’s diocese includes D.C. and a large part of Maryland.  Same-sex “marriage” is now legal in both jurisdictions. 

This diocesan expansion of the church’s definition of marriage is permitted under a “local option” granted by the Episcopal Church’s General Convention. At least for now, each priest in the diocese will have the freedom to decide whether to perform same-sex unions.

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The century-old cathedral has long held center stage in the spiritual symbolism of the United States, hosting presidential inaugural services, state funerals, and televised memorial services during times of national tragedy. Hundreds of thousands of people visit the cathedral each year. 

Thomas Peters, spokesman for the National Organization for Marriage, said the cathedral’s decision was “disappointing but not surprising,” since the Episcopal church has moved steadily leftward during recent years.

“The message here is that conservative Episcopalians are being pushed out,” Peters told the Washington Times.

Cathedral officials say it will probably be at least six months before the first same-sex ceremonies are performed due to the cathedral’s already booked schedule and their requirement that couples undergo pre-marital counseling. They said they had not received any requests for gay ceremonies prior to Wednesday’s announcement.