In a co-ordinated campaign of opposition to a rule banning lesbian and gay ministers from having sexual relationships, 82 Evangelical Lutheran clergy came out of the closet yesterday.

The Church’s Assembly in Chicago is expected to vote on the issue tomorrow.

Previous efforts to suspend the celibacy rule have failed, and the mass coming out is intended to show that there are a significant number of gay and lesbian ministers already in loving, monogamous relationships.

For many it was the first time they had been open about their sexuality.

“Forcing people to lie and hide lacks integrity for a faith that has as its core message: tell the truth in public in a way that sets us free,” Reverend Erik Christensen told the Chicago Tribune.

“I think this particular moment is pivotal. It really calls the church to accountability for its ‘don’t ask, don’t tell’ policy.”

The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America has nearly five million members.

Tomorrow the Church Assembly will also vote on whether or not to bless same-sex unions.

However, conservative elements in the Lutheran Church are determined to stop sexually active gay clergy.

There is also a compromise proposal that would still ban actively gay minister but allow Lutheran bishops to make exceptions.