After weeks of discussion, the General Synod of the Austrian Evangelical Church (EKÖ) – a Lutheran denomination – have agreed to allow homosexual couples to receive a church blessing during a public ceremony of worship. The move was approved by 45 votes to 18.

Despite several measures intended to protect conscientious objection on the part of pastors and communities, the vote is expected to create a deep divide in the Austrian Lutheran Church and some commentators are already warning of a split.

Same-sex civil ‘marriage’ became legal in Austria  on 1 January. Civil unions (registered partnerships) were legalised in 2010.

During the courteous debate, each party referred to the Bible to justify the opposing views.

Voters for the blessing ceremony quoted the commandment of love and spoke about God’s mercy and “friendliness to man.” According to the theological document published by the General Synod, their objective is to bring people who suffer from discrimination closer to Christ. They also believe that the Bible does not condemn homosexual partnerships.

Opposers called on biblical tradition which defines marriage as a God-willed, faithful and lifelong relationship between a man and a woman, pointing to a Synod resolution in 1996 which said exactly that. Since then, the Lutheran assemblies of Austria had consistently refrained from suggesting that homosexual relationships could receive a public blessing.

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