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
"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
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
"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
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."