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By Elizabeth S. Zuckerman

A little more than a week after announcing that Memorial Church would be available to same-sex couples wishing to hold commitment ceremonies, Pusey Minister for Memorial Church Rev. Peter J. Gomes said he believes it is "too early really to tell" what the decision will mean at Harvard and beyond.

So far, the decision has caused few ripples in the Harvard community, but Gomes said he expects some criticism.

"Just because we haven't heard anything yet doesn't mean there isn't anything out there to be heard," he said.

Yesterday, Kelly K. Monroe, who is affiliated with the Cambridgeport Baptist Church and a member of United Ministry said she considers the decision "not surprising but yet, I think, unfortunate."

For members and supporters of the gay community both at Harvard and beyond, the decision, while not surprising to them either, has so far meant satisfaction.

Gomes said he did not presume to speak for the gay community, but he hoped the new policy would help gay people who "hadn't given up religion."

It is "a pastoral concern" that members of the gay community often feel torn between religion and sexuality, he said.

Numerous supporters of gay rights have endorsed the decision, terming it the "right" and "obvious" one.

James M. Slayton, a clinical instructor at Harvard Medical School (HMS), whose 1993 request to use Memorial Church for a commitment ceremony sparked the process which culminated in the recent policy said he was "thrilled" by the decision.

Slayton said that although he and partner Phillip Hernandez, also an HMS instructor, were turned away by Gomes in 1993 and ultimately were blessed by Rev. G. Steward Barns in nearby Christ Church, he and Hernandez had remained involved in seeking a policy for Memorial Church.

Though Gomes told The Crimson in November that he did not remember having received Slayton and Hernandez's request, he said yesterday that until the adoption of the policy last week, no mechanism existed for dealing with requests for ceremonies not recognized by the state.

According to Gomes, the previously existing policy, which said ceremonies in Memorial Church could only be initiated if the couple possessed a legal document, goes back to the 17th century. For that reason, Gomes said, the Church needed to create new guidelines in order to host union ceremonies.

At some other universities, however, the process toward permitting same-sex commitment ceremonies has been less complex. While Princeton and Emory recently grappled with the issue, Brown University chaplain Janet Cooper Nelson said that union ceremonies have taken place in Brown chapels for more than two decades, though no policy specific to them exists.

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

An official in the Columbia University news office said that although no official policy on the ceremonies existed for the campus chapels, he "[didn't] understand why it would be an issue."

"We certainly treat homosexual couples the same as heterosexuals," he said.

And according to Gila Reinstein in the Yale Office of Public Affairs, "Yale has a nondiscrimination policy and would not prohibit individuals from using the chapel for same-sex commitment purposes."

"Yale has not issued a policy specific to same sex services but the overarching policy would apply," she said.

But 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.

Citing the national scope of issues of same-sex marriage, Gomes said that he elected to seek the guidance of the Board of Ministry and the Faculty Committee on Religion in order to determine what provision the Church should make for ceremonies not covered under the legal definition of matrimony.

"In a decision like this, in theory, I could have done this unilaterally but the bodies provide a process for ideas to be defined and refined," Gomes said.

Noting that "this is the University's church," Gomes said he also consulted on the decision with Rudenstine as he "ought to on policy matters with [his] superior."

Some have termed Gomes' approach to the decision process cautious and speculated that past experiences at the University led the minister to share the responsibility with others.

Slayton said he believes that Gomes might have approached the commitment ceremonies 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 Rudenstine withdrew support for this position, Gomes was left "holding the bag," Slayton said.

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

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

But Gomes said his progress towards 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."

"The decision will be confusing to many," Gomes said, noting the perplexity he often provokes because he is simultaneously "an establishment figure--and not embarrassed by that" as well as "a self-admitted homosexual but [one] who does not define that in the same way as many others do."

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.

Although Gomes said he personally performs very few weddings, he said his determination of whether he would officiate at a union ceremony would be made on a case-by-case basis as weddings are decided.

According to Gomes, the proceedings would be more challenging for a minister, however, because with union ceremonies clergy lack the experience they have with wedding liturgy and ceremony.Lucien Lefcourt for The CrimsonSame-sex couples may now hold religious union ceremonies in Memorial Church.

James M. Slayton, a clinical instructor at Harvard Medical School (HMS), whose 1993 request to use Memorial Church for a commitment ceremony sparked the process which culminated in the recent policy said he was "thrilled" by the decision.

Slayton said that although he and partner Phillip Hernandez, also an HMS instructor, were turned away by Gomes in 1993 and ultimately were blessed by Rev. G. Steward Barns in nearby Christ Church, he and Hernandez had remained involved in seeking a policy for Memorial Church.

Though Gomes told The Crimson in November that he did not remember having received Slayton and Hernandez's request, he said yesterday that until the adoption of the policy last week, no mechanism existed for dealing with requests for ceremonies not recognized by the state.

According to Gomes, the previously existing policy, which said ceremonies in Memorial Church could only be initiated if the couple possessed a legal document, goes back to the 17th century. For that reason, Gomes said, the Church needed to create new guidelines in order to host union ceremonies.

At some other universities, however, the process toward permitting same-sex commitment ceremonies has been less complex. While Princeton and Emory recently grappled with the issue, Brown University chaplain Janet Cooper Nelson said that union ceremonies have taken place in Brown chapels for more than two decades, though no policy specific to them exists.

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

An official in the Columbia University news office said that although no official policy on the ceremonies existed for the campus chapels, he "[didn't] understand why it would be an issue."

"We certainly treat homosexual couples the same as heterosexuals," he said.

And according to Gila Reinstein in the Yale Office of Public Affairs, "Yale has a nondiscrimination policy and would not prohibit individuals from using the chapel for same-sex commitment purposes."

"Yale has not issued a policy specific to same sex services but the overarching policy would apply," she said.

But 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.

Citing the national scope of issues of same-sex marriage, Gomes said that he elected to seek the guidance of the Board of Ministry and the Faculty Committee on Religion in order to determine what provision the Church should make for ceremonies not covered under the legal definition of matrimony.

"In a decision like this, in theory, I could have done this unilaterally but the bodies provide a process for ideas to be defined and refined," Gomes said.

Noting that "this is the University's church," Gomes said he also consulted on the decision with Rudenstine as he "ought to on policy matters with [his] superior."

Some have termed Gomes' approach to the decision process cautious and speculated that past experiences at the University led the minister to share the responsibility with others.

Slayton said he believes that Gomes might have approached the commitment ceremonies 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 Rudenstine withdrew support for this position, Gomes was left "holding the bag," Slayton said.

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

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

But Gomes said his progress towards 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."

"The decision will be confusing to many," Gomes said, noting the perplexity he often provokes because he is simultaneously "an establishment figure--and not embarrassed by that" as well as "a self-admitted homosexual but [one] who does not define that in the same way as many others do."

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.

Although Gomes said he personally performs very few weddings, he said his determination of whether he would officiate at a union ceremony would be made on a case-by-case basis as weddings are decided.

According to Gomes, the proceedings would be more challenging for a minister, however, because with union ceremonies clergy lack the experience they have with wedding liturgy and ceremony.Lucien Lefcourt for The CrimsonSame-sex couples may now hold religious union ceremonies in Memorial Church.

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