The nation's biggest Lutheran sect voted Friday to allow gays in committed relationships to become clergy in the church, a groundbreaking move that replaces an existing policy which only allowed celibate gays to serve.
Leaders of the Evangelical Lutheran Church, which holds 4.8 million members, voted 559-451 to allow homosexuals in "lifelong, monogamous" relationships to become fellow leaders of the church, The Washington Post reported.
Delegates were divided over the controversial measure -- some said it represented a new face of the Lutheran faith, while others mourned the downfall of the old guard.
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Ohio delegate John Sang said the church would suffer a long-term divide thanks to the new policy.
"I really believe...what we are about to do will split the church," Sang said.
The vote creates an equal ground for heterosexual and homosexual clergy -- all members, no matter their sexual orientation, must either be strictly monogamous or completely abstain from sexual activity.
There are over 10,000 Evangelical Lutheran Church branches across the country.