The Lutheran Church of Sweden’s Synod voted on Thursday to begin to conduct wedding ceremonies for same-sex couples.

The proposal tabled at the meeting of church leaders was approved with 176 votes for the measure, 22 against and 16 abstentions, reports The Local.

The decision was welcomed by gay rights groups, with the Swedish Association for Sexuality Education, the country’s largest, saying:

“The Synod’s decision takes a stance in favour of an inclusive view of people. Regardless of whether one is religious or not, this affects the entire social climate and the view of people’s equal value.”

The proposal nevertheless still allows individual pastors to choose not to conduct same-sex marriage ceremonies.

While a growing number of countries are allowing for the civil recognition of same-sex relationships, the move makes Sweden one of the few countries in the world with a major church that approves of gay and lesbian marriage. It is estimated that around 74% of Swedes are members of the church.

Same-sex relationships have been legally recognised since 1995 in Sweden and in May this year, the Swedish parliament voted to offer gay and lesbian couples full marriage rights.

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