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Duke Defies UM Discipline, Will Permit Same-Sex Unions In Duke Chapel

December 5, 2000

Duke News Service
Duke University
Box 90563, 615 Chapel Drive, Durham, North Carolina 27708-0563
Phone: (919) 684-2823 ~ Fax: (919) 681-5570

Contact: John F. Burness Phone: (919) 681-3788  

DURHAM, N.C. -- Concurring with the recommendation of a committee of faculty, staff, students and trustees, Duke University President Nannerl O. Keohane and Dean William H. Willimon have decided to permit the celebration of same-sex unions in Duke Chapel for members of the university community.

"Our major rationale for this change is our conviction, in agreement with your committee, that Duke has a wonderful tradition of rich religious diversity," Keohane and Willimon said Tuesday in a letter thanking the committee for its deliberations on the issue.

Such unions between members of the same gender heretofore have been prohibited in the chapel, primarily because the United Methodist Church, with which Duke is affiliated, does not permit such unions. But Keohane and Willimon noted that the chapel is not tied to a particular denomination, and is a university facility. In addition, they said the religious life staff represents 20 different faith groups, some of which - including Unitarians, the United Church of Christ and some Baptists - have been developing liturgies for such unions and wish to celebrate them in the chapel.

"It is not, in our opinion, a matter of the chapel approving or disapproving of this liturgical innovation, but rather a question of how much religious diversity we should accommodate," Keohane and Willimon said. "We now feel, as a result of the discussion on campus during the past three months, and the work of your committee, that we ought to allow these unions to be celebrated by those clergy who are allowed, by their religious communities, to officiate at such ceremonies."

They also said they were aware there is much disagreement among religious groups over the issue of same-sex unions. "No one has suggested that we ask any clergy to perform these unions if that clergy person, by reason of conscience, conviction or church tradition, does not wish to do so," Keohane and Willimon said.

They asked the committee in October to review the existing Duke Chapel policy barring such unions. The committee, chaired by Rev. Anne Hodges-Copple, Episcopal chaplain at Duke, met seven times and reported to Keohane and Willimon:

"The committee, after much deliberation, advises the president and dean to permit such ceremonies between same-sex couples, consistent with current chapel policy." That would limit such ceremonies in the chapel to alumni, students, faculty, employees and their adult children.

The committee said gay and lesbian faculty, staff, students and alumni "have always been and remain important participants in the life of the chapel and its many affiliated religious life organizations." The committee report said "this same spirit of hospitality should be extended to any eligible same-sex couple wishing to deliberate with God's blessing a covenantal relationship of holy union."

The decision by Duke's president and dean of the chapel follows similar action in October by the Freeman Center for Jewish Life. The center's Board of Directors approved a policy that permits same-sex union ceremonies at the center because the Reform Movement now permits its rabbis to officiate at same sex ceremonies between two Jewish people.

In addition, same-sex union ceremonies have been performed in the university's Sarah P. Duke Gardens.

Besides Hodges-Copple, the committee included Christine Campbell, representing the Graduate and Professional Student Council; Patrick Clark, undergraduate representative; Rev. Jennifer E. Copeland, director of Wesley Fellowship of the United Methodist Campus Ministry; Sally Dickson, vice president for institutional equity; Peter Fish, professor of political science and law; University Archivist William King; Karen Krahulik, director of the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transsexual Life Center; United Methodist Bishop C. P. Minnick, a trustee emeritus; Vice Provost Judith Ruderman; Rev. Charles M. Smith, a current trustee; and Gerald Wilson, senior associate dean of Trinity College of Arts and Sciences.

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