The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America’s assembly agreed by just one vote yesterday to recognise gay relationships but acknowledge differing views.

The social statement on human sexuality sets out the church’s views on a number of issues such as marriage, sex before marriage and pornography, with a small section on gay relationships.

It acknowledged the fact that the issue was contentious within the church but said there was room for differing views.

The motion, which needed a two-thirds majority to pass, succeeded with just one vote, with 66.7 per cent in favour.

However, the biggest issue for gays in the Lutheran church this week is a vote to be held tomorrow on whether to accept gay clergy in sexually active monogamous relationships.

Although church officials have said yesterday’s vote does not mean Friday’s motion will be approved, it has been welcomed by gay advocacy groups.

Emily Eastwood, executive director of Lutherans Concerned/North America, an advocacy group for gays and lesbians in the church, said: “The church has supported families of all kinds and has acknowledged without judgement the variety of views within the ELCA regarding lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender inclusion.

“The document recognises the ministries of congregations which conduct blessings of same-gender relationships and same gender marriages where such marriages are legal,” she said.

“We celebrate in particular the emphasis of the social statement on the centrality of family in the life of church and society – all families without differentiation.”

Yesterday’s vote on the human sexuality statement needed assent from two-thirds of voters but tomorrow’s, which is seen as more important, requires only a simple majority.

Last month, US Anglicans voted to reject a three-year moratorium on consecrating new gay bishops.

Divisions over gay bishops began in 2003, when the openly gay Gene Robinson, of New Hampshire, was consecrated. His appointment caused deep rifts between liberals and traditionalists.

In the last three years, the Anglican Communion has been pushing the Episcopal Church to “restrain” the numbers of gay bishops in order to avoid a split in the Anglican church. No new gay bishops have been consecrated in this time.