National Cathedral's Gay Marriage Stance Sparks Calls For Defunding

Washington -- A prominent conservative interest group has launched a petition to suspend all federal funding from the National Cathedral in light of the landmark church's recent decision to perform same-sex weddings.

"We believe the definition of 'marriage' to be the union of one man to one woman," the petition, sponsored by right-wing activist Ralph Reed's Faith & Freedom Coalition, reads. "Pro-family and Pro-freedom Americans cannot sit idly by."

Representatives for the National Cathedral remain undeterred by the petition's threat. "We have absolutely no intentions of changing course [on gay marriage]," Richard Weinberg, the Cathedral's director of communications, told The Huffington Post. "For us, it's a theological issue and an issue of how we're living out the gospel as faithful Christians."

The 106-year-old Episcopal church announced last month that it would begin hosting same-sex nuptials, following the appointment of prominent gay marriage advocate the Very Rev. Gary Hall as its dean.

"As a kind of tall-steeple, public church in the nation's capital, by saying we're going to bless same-sex marriages, conduct same-sex marriages, we are really trying to take the next step for marriage equality in the nation and in the culture," Hall said at the time.

Reed points to the federal Defense of Marriage Act, which defines marriage as a union between a man and a woman, as justification for his actions against the Cathedral. "Taxpayers are being asked to subsidize gay marriage ceremonies for a church that can readily access millions of their own funds," the petition states. "If the National Cathedral wants to continue to receive taxpayer funding from Congress, they should respect Congressional action like the Defense of Marriage Act."

Reed's organization claims that in recent years, the Cathedral has received "hundreds of thousands of dollars" in federal grants. Indeed, the National Park Service gave the iconic structure $700,000 in May 2011 as part of its "Save America's Treasures" program. Most of its funding, however, comes from private sources.

Weinberg told HuffPost that any federal funding the Cathedral receives is allocated toward upkeep and maintenance of the actual building, which receives more than half a million visitors each year. "We believe that the Cathedral is a national landmark and treasure that's worthy of preserving," he said. "Raising federal funds for other projects would not be consistent with the constitution as we understand it."

Gay rights advocates claim that Reed's petition directly contradicts his organization's belief that the federal government should support religious institutions.

“[T]he same FFC which believes Obama is waging a ‘war on religion’ and trampling on ‘religious liberty’ wants the government to cut off its grants to a church due to its opposition to marriagae equality,” People for the American Way spokesman Brian Tashman said in a statement.

Gay marriage has been legal in Washington, D.C., since late 2009. The Episcopal Church became the largest Christian denomination to sanction the practice when it announced last July that its priests could officiate blessings to same-sex couples.

"We certainly stand behind our mission as a spiritual home for the nation," Weinberg said. "We are rooted in our role first and foremost as an Episcopal curch, and the issue of marriage equality within the Episcopal Church is generally settled."