Leaders of the nation's largest Lutheran church have voted to allow sexually active gays and lesbians in committed relationships to serve as clergy.
Gays and lesbians are currently allowed to serve as ministers in the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America only if they remain celibate.
The proposal passed Friday night with 68 percent approval.
At 4.7 million members and about 10,000 congregations in the United States, the ELCA is one of the largest U.S. Christian denominations yet to take a more gay-friendly stance on clergy.
The final decision on whether to hire gay clergy in committed relationships will lie with individual congregations.
Critics predict that its passage will prompt individual congregations to split off from the denomination.
Leaders of the country's largest Lutheran denomination are set to decide whether gay and lesbian pastors in committed relationships should be allowed to lead individual congregations.
The 1,045 delegates to the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America's convention in Minneapolis are scheduled to vote Friday on the gay clergy proposal.
Gays and lesbians are currently allowed to serve as ELCA ministers only if they remain celibate. If delegates approve the proposal, the church will join a growing list of mainline Christian denominations to liberalize attitudes toward homosexuality.
Critics say the proposed policy goes against clear Scriptural guidance that homosexuality is sinful, and have predicted some congregations could split with the ELCA over the issue.