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Policy on Ceremonies Draws Muted Response

By Elizabeth S. Zuckerman, CRIMSON STAFF WRITER

Three months after the University decided to permit same-sex commitment ceremonies in Memorial Church, the policy change-billed by the University as a momentous and historic shift-so far has generated few ripples.

Sexton Michael E. Gromatski, who is responsible for scheduling all weddings and commitment ceremonies at the church, said he has fielded three requests for information since the decision but has not yet booked a ceremony.

However, one couple applied last week who could become the first to use the Church for a union ceremony, Gromatski said. Both men are Harvard students, though Gromatski said he did not know their specific affiliation.

Another couple were ineligible because they did not have a University affiliation. And a third couple requested, but did not respond to, an information packet.

Gromatski said he has been "some what surprised at how little inquiry we have had."

While Gromatski said he did not expect a barrage of requests for the ceremonies he also "didn't expect it to be this nonexistent."

In July, Pusey Minister in the Memorial Church Peter J. Gomes accepted a recommendation by the Board of Ministry-Harvard's advisory board for religious affairs-that the church be available for ceremonies for same-sex couples who also are University affiliates.

"The policy does not tell ministers of Memorial Church what to do," noted Thomas B. Chittick, president of the United Ministry and minister of University Lutheran Church, in July. "It merely says that non-discrimination applies to the chapel if the service is a religious one."

According to Gomes, the previous policy, which stipulated that Memorial Church ceremonies could only be initiated if the couple possessed a legal marriage license, originated in the 17th century.

The low level of inquiry at the Church has been echoed by general campus calm. While members and supporters of the gay community have said they are pleased, they have termed the decision an "obvious" one.

"It was a big issue last year because there was opposition to it," said Andre K. Sulmers '99, co-chair of the Bisexual, Gay, Lesbian, Transgendered and Supporters Alliance, last week. "It was important at the time to make sure that it happened, but I don't feel we ever expected it not to happen."

While Sulmers said response in the gay community is difficult to gauge, he said he believes the decision is of important symbolic value to validating and affirming same-sex relationships. He also stressed that symbolic value may have practical consequences.

"Inclusion is a powerful thing," he said.

Others also stressed the significance of symbolic inclusion.

"The more normalizing influences there are, like Memorial Church ceremonies, the more students at Harvard will see this in what I would view as a better perspective. Then they can go out and become senators and Supreme Court justices-they can work to change the system" said Associate Registrar Thurston A. Smith in an interview after the decision.

Smith is former chair of the now-defunct Gay and Lesbian Network.

Symbolic changes already have occurred in other traditional Harvard institutions. For instance, the Class Notes section of Harvard Magazine-the alumni publication-in its March/April issue this year published a same-sex marriage announcement for the first time.

David K.F. Gillis '89 and Edward J. Finley II were married at Trinity Episcopal Church in San Francisco, the Class of 1989 class notes announced.

Religious Discontent

For members of Harvard's evangelical Christian community, the decision was also expected.

"In large part, some were saddened, some were disappointed, most were not surprised," said Christian Impact Co-Chair Mary L. Naber '98, who is also a Crimson executive.

"The building called Memorial Church has been moving away from historical Christianity and absolute truth for years," she said.

"I know a lot of people who choose this behavior on campus and I love them like anyone else," she said. "We all have different areas of sin and it is only when we see the brokenness and pain and lonli- ness of it are we willing to look to Christ for forgiveness and love."

But Naber deemphasized the impact of the decision on the Christian community. "We don't look at the University for affirmation but rather to the creator of the universe," she said.

Other leaders in the Christian community also said the believed the impact of the decision was limited.

Miranda O. Yousef '98, leader of the Orthodox Christian Fellowship, said "I don't think a lot of Orthodox Christians are particularly aware of this," noting that it would not affect them because the Orthodox Church would not perform a religious rite for a same-sex couple.

She declined to comment on the group's position on the appropriateness of the policy.

The Wheels of Change

At some other American universities, the process toward permitting same-sex commitment ceremonies has been less complex.

Questions about union ceremonies in campus chapels escalated into a debate over the ownership of the University at Emory this year.

And Princeton's administration recently decided that same-sex couples using the chapel could not sign the marriage register. However, Brown University Chaplain Janet Cooper Nelson said this summer that the ceremonies have taken place in Brown chapels for more than two decades, though no written policy exists.

"To challenge the legitimacy of the commitment ceremonies we would have had to form a policy against it," she said.

And according to Gila Reinstein, a Yale spokesperson, "Yale has not issued a policy specific to same-sex services but the overarching policy would apply."

According to Gomes, change at Harvard requires more deliberation.

"Things happen slowly here, but they also happen with a degree of self-consciousness which is both a blessing and a curse," he said in an interview this summer.

Some have termed Gomes' approach to the decision cautious. James M. Slayton, a clinical instructor at Harvard Medical School, whose 1993 request to use Memorial Church sparked the initial controversy, said he believes that Gomes might have approached the issue cautiously because of controversy over a Civil War monument almost two years ago.

Gomes advocated recognition of war dead on both sides but when President Neil L. Rudenstine withdrew support for this position, Gomes was left "holding the bag," Slayton said.

Others have speculated that Gomes was made cautious by some unfavorable campus reaction when he disclosed his own homsexuality at a 1992 rally protesting an issue of the conservative publication Peninsula that attacked homosexuality on biblical grounds.

After Gomes announcement, a group called Concerned Christians at Harvard was formed and there was at least one open call for his resignation.

But Gomes said that his progress toward a policy was not influenced by concern about criticism.

"If I were afraid of criticism, this would be the wrong job," he said. "There are easier ways to make a living."

He also said Harvard required a more systematic approach to the ceremonies than Brown because the relationship of chapel and university is different than that between Memorial Church and Harvard

But Naber deemphasized the impact of the decision on the Christian community. "We don't look at the University for affirmation but rather to the creator of the universe," she said.

Other leaders in the Christian community also said the believed the impact of the decision was limited.

Miranda O. Yousef '98, leader of the Orthodox Christian Fellowship, said "I don't think a lot of Orthodox Christians are particularly aware of this," noting that it would not affect them because the Orthodox Church would not perform a religious rite for a same-sex couple.

She declined to comment on the group's position on the appropriateness of the policy.

The Wheels of Change

At some other American universities, the process toward permitting same-sex commitment ceremonies has been less complex.

Questions about union ceremonies in campus chapels escalated into a debate over the ownership of the University at Emory this year.

And Princeton's administration recently decided that same-sex couples using the chapel could not sign the marriage register. However, Brown University Chaplain Janet Cooper Nelson said this summer that the ceremonies have taken place in Brown chapels for more than two decades, though no written policy exists.

"To challenge the legitimacy of the commitment ceremonies we would have had to form a policy against it," she said.

And according to Gila Reinstein, a Yale spokesperson, "Yale has not issued a policy specific to same-sex services but the overarching policy would apply."

According to Gomes, change at Harvard requires more deliberation.

"Things happen slowly here, but they also happen with a degree of self-consciousness which is both a blessing and a curse," he said in an interview this summer.

Some have termed Gomes' approach to the decision cautious. James M. Slayton, a clinical instructor at Harvard Medical School, whose 1993 request to use Memorial Church sparked the initial controversy, said he believes that Gomes might have approached the issue cautiously because of controversy over a Civil War monument almost two years ago.

Gomes advocated recognition of war dead on both sides but when President Neil L. Rudenstine withdrew support for this position, Gomes was left "holding the bag," Slayton said.

Others have speculated that Gomes was made cautious by some unfavorable campus reaction when he disclosed his own homsexuality at a 1992 rally protesting an issue of the conservative publication Peninsula that attacked homosexuality on biblical grounds.

After Gomes announcement, a group called Concerned Christians at Harvard was formed and there was at least one open call for his resignation.

But Gomes said that his progress toward a policy was not influenced by concern about criticism.

"If I were afraid of criticism, this would be the wrong job," he said. "There are easier ways to make a living."

He also said Harvard required a more systematic approach to the ceremonies than Brown because the relationship of chapel and university is different than that between Memorial Church and Harvard

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