Policy on Ceremonies Draws Muted Response

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.

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