Norway's Lutherans ease ban on allowing those in gay partnerships to serve in clergy

Oslo, Norway - Norway's state Lutheran church lifted an outright ban on clergy in same-sex relationships but will allow each bishop to decide whether to employ them.

After an anguished week of debate at its annual meeting, the church's 86-member governing synod voted 50-34 to make the change. Two members abstained. The meeting, which ended Nov. 16, was held in the town of Lillehammer.

Six of Norway's 11 bishops are expected to open their local pulpits to noncelibate gay and lesbian clergy.

"This will create peace in the church, and security for homosexual clergy," Marit Tingelstad, head of the Bishop's Council for southeastern Norway's Hamar district, said on state radio network NRK.

But Bishop Ole D. Hagesaeter, of the Bjoergvin district, said, "This is a sad day for the church. It will be a splitting factor and lead to many feeling homeless in the church."

The synod's vote was a compromise revision of a 1997 resolution by the highest body in Norway's state Protestant church that barred all gay clergy with same-gender partners from holding consecrated jobs.

Under Norwegian law, gay couples have rights comparable to those of married heterosexuals, apart from church weddings and adoption.

The church counts nearly 85 percent of Norway's 4.7 million people as members.