Associated Press, 17 Aug 03

ELCA votes to not delay decision on blessing same-sex marriages

by Tim Cigelske
Associated Press

MILWAUKEE -- The nation's largest Lutheran denomination voted Saturday to avoid further delaying a decision on blessing same-sex marriages and allowing sexually active gays and lesbians in the clergy.

The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) voted 526-462 to defeat an amendment that would have postponed the decisions from 2005 to 2007.

Members wearing rainbow scarves, signifying support of keeping the timeline on track, hugged one another and cheered after the assembly sang the hymn "I've Got Peace Like a River" after the vote.

The church's assembly in 2001 commissioned a four-year study on homosexuality in the church and called for the vote to be held at the completion of the report. Some members had sought to delay the vote until 2007, when the church's study on human sexuality is scheduled to be completed.

Directors of a Lutheran study on homosexuality issued an interim report on their progress Friday that did not make any conclusions. The report outlined how the directors were conducting the study in terms of budget and timeline.

The next step in the timeline of the sexuality study is the release of interim findings to the ELCA's congregations in early September for further comment and debate.

Later Saturday, the ELCA assembly rejected by 832-139 a motion to break ties with the Episcopalians. Last week the Episcopal General Convention ratified the election of that denomination's first openly gay bishop and affirmed same-sex blessings as "an acceptable practice in the church." The ELCA recognizes and shares Episcopalian sacraments and clergy under a full communion pact the ELCA approved four years ago.

Although the ELCA doesn't have a definitive position banning same-sex unions, an advisory statement in 1993 said its bishops did not approve of such a ceremony as an official rite, because they saw no basis for it in scripture or church tradition.