The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America has passed a “social statement” which allows the church to recognise gay relationships while acknowledging differing views.

The statement needed a two-thirds majority vote to be passed in the churches general assembly, and managed this with one vote.

Emily Eastwood, executive director of Lutherans Concerned/North America, an advocacy group for gays and lesbians in the church, said: “The church has supported families of all kinds and has acknowledged without judgement the variety of views within the ELCA regarding lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender inclusion.

The document recognises the ministries of congregations which conduct blessings of same-gender relationships and same gender marriages where such marriages are legal,” she said.

A second vote is set to be held to determine whether or not to accept gay clergy in sexually active monogamous relationships. The Church has taken in gay and lesbian pastors since the early 1990s on condition that they remain celibate.

Divisions over gay bishops began in 2003, when the openly gay pastor Gene Robinson of New Hampshire was consecrated as Bishop. His appointment caused deep rifts between liberals and traditionalists.

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