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Sexual Diversity May Win Over Church Doctrine At Duke As They Consider Expanding Homosexual Blessings and Benefits

Committee to Review Ban on Same-Sex Unions in Chapel

The Rev. Anne Hodges-Copple, the Episcopal minister for Duke, will chair an advisory committee to review Duke Chapel's policy prohibiting same-sex union ceremonies, President Nannerl O. Keohane said Thursday.

Keohane and Dean of the Chapel William Willimon asked the committee to report their conclusions by mid-November "so that a decision can be made on this issue before the end of the current semester."

In addition to Copple, the committee will include Jenny Copeland, Duke chaplain to United Methodist students; Sally Dickson, vice president for institutional equity; University Archivist William King; Karen Christel Krahulik, director of the university's Center for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Trangender Life; Bishop C. P. Minnick Jr. of the United Methodist Church and a Duke trustee emeritus; Vice Provost Judith Ruderman; Charles M. Smith, a trustee and United Methodist minister; and Gerald Wilson, senior associate dean of Trinity College. Keohane said she will be contact with the Executive Committee of the Academic Council and the Graduate and Professional Student Council about faculty and student members.

In a letter to Hodges-Copple, Keohane and Willimon noted that the United Methodist Church recently reaffirmed its prohibition against same-sex unions. "While the position of the United Methodists is important for Duke as a Methodist-affiliated university, the church has nurtured Duke's development into an open and affirming institution that welcomes and encourages a wide diversity of religious groups and practices among members of our university community," the wrote.

Keohane and Willimon asked Hodges-Copple and her committee to "give us the benefit of your counsel" on two questions:

"1. Should Duke allow same-sex unions to be blessed in Duke Chapel?

"2. If so, under what conditions should we allow such ceremonies, by whom should they be celebrated, and what restrictions, if any, should be imposed on access to the chapel for such unions?"

Announcement of the review came after Duke Student Government (DSG) President Jordan Bazinsky's strong criticism of the policy during the Oct. 6 Board of Trustees meeting.

"In the best interest of maintaining equal access and rights for all Duke University students, staff, faculty and alumni, it is imperative that Duke change the current chapel policy to allow same-sex unions in the Duke University Chapel," he told trustees. "Duke currently operates under a highly visible, nondiscrimination policy that specifically includes sexual orientation."

Discussion of the policy began heating up last spring, when DSG passed a resolution calling for the ban's lifting. DSG followed up earlier this month with a report detailing how administrators at Harvard, Stanford and Emory dealt with the same issue, concluding: "Duke cannot lead the nation in its educational and diversity merits without granting every individual on campus equal rights to all of its facilities." DSG also has sponsored a series of discussions about the issue, including an open-mike forum Wednesday on the chapel's steps.

Overall student opinion of same-sex union ceremonies is difficult to gauge. But The Chronicle, the student-run campus newspaper, has published several editorials supporting the DSG position, the latest on Oct. 2. And in a series of letters to the paper on the topic this fall, calls for removing the ban on same-sex marriage in the chapel have significantly outnumbered supporters of the current policy.

Keohane brought the issue, with Willimon's support, before university trustees at their Oct. 7 work session for advice and counsel. While the trustees supported the idea of creating the advisory committee, the president - not the board - has been charged with making the final decision.

Willimon, an ordained United Methodist minister who preaches in the chapel every Sunday, first articulated the chapel's restriction on permitting same-sex union ceremonies in 1995. Such ceremonies are permitted in other campus buildings.

"The university is a religiously diverse place," said Willimon, who is also a professor in the Duke Divinity School. "We encourage and cooperate with a very wide range of religious communities - a number of which are permitting these ceremonies. I think this is an issue of religious cooperation and understanding more than anything else."

While the chapel and university are affiliated with the United Methodist Church, the chapel is not a Methodist church.

Since its opening in 1932, the chapel has allowed access for weekly activities to religious groups representing Protestant, Catholic, Jewish, Muslim and non-denominational faiths. Almost 20 campus ministers and chaplains work on campus through the Office of Religious Life, which is housed in the chapel's basement. Both religious and secular speakers - from the Bishop Desmond Tutu and the Rev. Billy Graham to Cornel West and Maya Angelou - have spoken from the pulpit. Ecumenical and interfaith services, including Holocaust and Martin Luther King Jr. memorial ceremonies, are regularly held inside.

The Congregation at Duke University Chapel, which holds services every Sunday morning in the 1,600-seat building, is an interdenominational church.

The committee's formation is "encouraging," said Krahulik.

While the importance of same-sex marriages certainly varies from person to person, "I think the more important issue that does affect the entire LGBT community is the issue of discrimination," Krahulik said. "Lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgendered people at Duke and beyond should have the option to 'marry' their partners, even though they may not exercise that option."

The key question before the advisory committee is whether Duke should permit same-sex union ceremonies in the chapel when they are conducted by clergy whose church allows them to do so, Willimon said.

Clergy should not be expected to violate their own church's teachings, he said. For example, the United Methodist Church reiterated this summer its opposition to same-sex unions - despite efforts by Willimon and others to permit that decision on a conference-by-conference basis - "and I am charged with upholding my church's opinions on this," Willimon said.

Willimon is in a difficult position, Bazinsky acknowledged. But he said if anyone on campus can find a solution, it is Willimon.

"One of his valuable assets is his unique ability to work with different groups of people," Bazinsky said. "He's the right person to try and pull together very different viewpoints and to make sense of it."

Source: http://www.dukenews.duke.edu/Daily00-01/samesex.htm 


For immediate release
Dec. 9, 1997
Contact: Al Rossiter Jr.
(919) 684-6815


DURHAM, N.C. - Duke University plans to extend health and other benefits to same-sex partners of graduate and professional students when the partners meet long-term commitment criteria similar to that of spouses, President Nannerl O. Keohane announced Tuesday.

The new policy will become effective Jan. 15, the first day of classes for the spring semester, although implementation of various benefits will vary, depending on the time required to make the necessary arrangements.

"The main benefits under discussion have been access to recreational and library facilities, opportunity to apply for a second space in university apartments and eligibility to purchase health insurance for a partner through a Duke-sponsored family plan," Keohane said in a letter to the executive committee of the Task Force on Lesbian, Gay and Bisexual Matters informing them of the decision.

Recreational and library access should be available early in the spring term. Application for space in Central Campus apartments will be arranged by next fall. Eligibility for health insurance is dependent on negotiating a new contract with a company that provides same-sex spousal equivalent coverage.

The qualifications for recognition as a same-sex spousal equivalent will be the same as now required by Duke employees, officials said. Applicants must show documented evidence of a long-term committed relationship in which both partners accept shared personal and financial responsibility for the other.

Duke undergraduates will not be eligible for similar recognition because it has long been Duke policy not to recognize financial independence for undergraduates. Parents or guardians are financially responsible for undergraduates.


Source: http://www.dukenews.duke.edu/arch/ARCH98/SAMSEX.HTM 

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