frgavin on June 15th, 2014

By Colin Wilhelm, For The Tennessean

A same-sex couple will be allowed a ceremony that proclaims lifelong commitment this fall in All Saints’ Chapel, the nearly cathedral-sized church on Sewanee’s campus — despite the fact they are already married.

The university originally turned down the request of Kathryn Kendrick and Eva Walton, who were wed May 31 in Washington, D.C., because the couple would be married before the covenant ceremony was to take place.

“We [thought], ‘This puts the university out ahead of the church,'” said Sewanee’s vice chancellor, Dr. John McCardell, noting that neither Tennessee nor the Episcopal Church — whose 28 southeastern dioceses own Sewanee — formally recognizes same-sex marriage.

Sewanee has allowed commitment ceremonies for unmarried same-sex couples since 2012, though none has yet taken place. However, university officials felt uneasy about providing the ceremony to an already married same-sex couple, a scenario they hadn’t anticipated two years ago when only a half dozen states and the District of Columbia allowed gay marriage. Since then, 13 more states have joined the list.

Kendrick, a Sewanee alumna, said she was “shocked and extremely disappointed” by the denial. She and Walton, who live in Atlanta, had already received the required support of Atlanta’s Episcopal bishop for the ceremony.

Walton shared the news of the rejection on Facebook in mid-May. Almost immediately, Kendrick’s former college roommate Hayley Robb and her fiancé, Tyler Brantley — Nashville residents who plan to marry at All Saints’ this summer — helped launch a Facebook group and letter-writing campaign titled “Rethink This, Sewanee.” Brantley and Robb encouraged writers to send donations to the school and its Gay-Straight Alliance chapter along with their letters in support of overturning the decision. They planned a June 8 event in support of Kendrick and Walton on Sewanee’s campus.

“It just felt so wrong,” Robb said.

In two weeks, the group swelled to more than 2,500 members. By comparison, Sewanee’s combined undergraduate and seminary enrollment hovers around 1,500 students.

“We didn’t quite realize how much support was out there for this. The group grew by at least six or seven hundred people for four or five days in a row,” Brantley said.

On May 30, the night before Kendrick and Walton’s marriage, they received an email from Sewanee’s chancellor, the Rt. Rev. Samuel Johnson Howard, saying Sewanee had reversed its stance. The liturgy of the ceremony will be slightly revised to further differentiate it from marriage.

The couple and their supporters say they’re happy with the outcome, and so is Sewanee’s McCardell.

“This, I think, will turn out to be a very good solution,” said McCardell, for future married same-sex couples who want a religious ceremony as well. “Since more and more states are permitting gay marriage, the likelihood that this situation will occur again has increased.”


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