One vote. That was the margin Wednesday by which the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America churchwide assembly approved a social statement that, among other things, acknowledges the validity of same-sex relationships that are "chaste, monogamous and lifelong."

The margin was so close that Bishop Mark Hanson, the ELCA leader who presided over the vote, hesitated before announcing the outcome. Rules required the social statement to pass by a two-thirds vote; the final result was 66.67 percent.

"I thought it was going to be close, but I doubted very much that it would come out at exactly two-thirds," said the Rev. Peter Strommen, chairman of the task force that drew up the social statement and pastor of Shepherd of the Lake Lutheran Church in Prior Lake.

Close as it was, the vote bodes well for a proposal to repeal a ban on gay and lesbian ministers from leading churches unless they promise to be celibate. That motion, which is to come up for a vote Friday afternoon, requires only a simple majority to pass.

Earlier in the afternoon, a storm battered the Minneapolis Convention Center where the ELCA was meeting. That storm turned out to be nothing compared with the whirlwind going on inside.

The day's agenda called for a vote on the social statement before the afternoon plenary session was adjourned at 5:45 p.m., but at 5:30, the debate on the statement itself hadn't even started. Convention-goers had spent the afternoon arguing about amendments.

It was suggested -- but never officially voted on -- that the discussion be suspended until today. At that point, some delegates who had dinner reservations started to drift out of the hall.

Then, in quick succession, a delegate called the issue for a vote. That resulted in two quick votes, the first to halt discussion and the second on the social statement itself. As it turned out, 29 of the 1,045 registered voters did not vote.

The vote was followed by several minutes of confusion in which a number of motions were made, one of them for a closer look at the exact vote. But the motions all failed, either because they conflicted with ELCA bylaws or they were deemed to be out of order by the convention's parliamentarian.

Until then, the most angst had been generated by a prolonged debate over an amendment that would have changed the wording of the social statement. Proposed by opponents, it sought to change the wording to say, "This church regards the practice of homosexual behavior as contrary to God's intent for His children."

After a long and contentious debate, that amendment was defeated.

Supporters of Friday's proposal to change the rules governing gay clergy were pleased by the vote.

"It bolstered our optimism," said Emily Eastwood, executive director of St. Paul-based Lutherans Concerned/North America. "We are encouraged and hopeful that on Friday this foundation will result in the church's elimination of the current ban on ministers in committed same-gender relationships."

Opponents of the rule change were disappointed, but not to the point of conceding Friday's vote.

"We knew this was going to be an uphill battle," said the Rev. Mark Chavez, spokesman for Lutheran CORE. "But we're still here."

Jeff Strickler • 612-673-7392