The Evangelical Lutheran Church of America (ELCA) has voted to allow lesbian and gay pastors in committed same-sex relationships to serve as ministers.

The vote passed 559-541 on Friday. This was followed by decision to “allow congregations that choose to do so to recognise, support and hold publicly accountable, lifelong, monogamous, same-gender relationships.”

Earlier last week, a two-thirds majority also voted to approve a social statement on human sexuality to acknowledge without judgment the wide variety of views within the ELCA regarding lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender inclusion.

“Today I am proud to be a Lutheran. Supporters and advocates of full inclusion have longed for this day since the inception of the ELCA, and for many of us what seemed like a lifetime,” said Emily Eastwood, Executive Director of Lutherans Concerned/North America.

“The ELCA has always had gay ministers, now those and all ministers are free to claim who they are and to have the love and support of a lifelong partner, regardless of orientation or gender identity, which is all we ever asked.”

The groundbreaking decisions were taken during the Church’s weeklong biennial meeting in Minneapolis, which was held in the midst of a tornado that damaged the city’s convention centre; an event which was blamed by one pastor on the church’s growing acceptance of LGBT people.

“By allowing for same-sex couples in committed relationships to serve their call to ministry and by creating policies that respects LGBT people in their congregations, ELCA is modelling for other religious communities what it means to be a faith community that honors all of God’s children,” said Human Rights Campaign President Joe Solmonese.

Divisions over gay bishops among Christian denominations 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 in the Christian world.

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