Minneapolis-area Lutherans on Friday went on record against changing the state Constitution to define marriage as between one man and one woman.

Their vote made them one of the largest faith groups yet to formally oppose the amendment that will go before voters Nov. 6, which would ban same-sex marriage in Minnesota. Close to 700 Lutherans, representing congregations in the Minneapolis Area Synod of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, voted on a resolution opposing the amendment at the group's annual assembly at a Prior Lake church.

When the vote was called, those in favor of the resolution flashed green cards with the word "yes." Those against it waved red cards that said "no." The greens overwhelmed the reds, and no formal tally was called for by synod leaders.

"What we've heard today is the Lutheran Church is about welcome, and we proved that with the statement we made," said Lauren Morse-Wendt, a mission developer with Edina Community Lutheran Church and one of the resolution's authors. "I believe the people of Minnesota need to know that people of faith stand up for all families. This marriage amendment to define marriage between a man and a woman is a discriminatory amendment which would deliberately deny justice to a portion of the population of Minnesota."

The synod does not plan to give money to help defeat the amendment, but hopes congregations will study the resolution and "consider how they will respond," said Sara Masters, a synod spokeswoman.

State law already defines marriage as the union of a man and woman. Supporters of the proposed amendment argue that it is needed to enshrine that belief in the constitution so that neither judges nor a future Legislature could overturn it.

Faith groups and institutions are divided over the amendment. With nearly 800,000 members and Minnesota's second-largest religious denomination, the ELCA is the latest to weigh in on the measure; the Minneapolis synod is the first major Lutheran body to oppose it.

Catholic bishops representing Minnesota's largest single denomination, with close to 1.1 million members, have come out in favor of the amendment, bringing some objections from lay Catholics.

Voices on both sides

The Minneapolis synod's resolution states that the amendment "would prevent one group of committed couples and their families from pursuing ordinary legislative or legal means to gain the support and protections afforded to all others."

During a discussion at the assembly, at least a dozen people spoke for or against the measure. Those against the resolution questioned whether it was appropriate for the synod to take a stand on the marriage amendment.

Clifton Hanson, a pastor at Faith Lutheran Church in Isanti, spoke against the synod's resolution.

"This is a really complex political issue, and I think it's important Christians are involved in the political realm on the individual level," Hanson said. "I think for us to come together as a group and say the church thinks [that the marriage amendment is wrong] is inappropriate.

"One of the things Christians have felt for a long time, and Lutherans especially, is that political issues of basically every kind are things about which Christians can legitimately disagree. I think to vote on something like this ... is not really our place, especially considering the fact that by doing that we're telling Christians within our denomination you cannot legitimately disagree on this matter."

Other synods to weigh in

The St. Paul Area Synod will consider a similar resolution opposing the amendment at its annual assembly in May. Minnesota's remaining four ELCA synods have not brought up resolutions addressing the marriage amendment.

The Minneapolis synod is the nation's largest ELCA synod, with approximately 188,710 baptized members. In 2004, its assembly opposed "any effort to amend the United States federal or Minnesota state Constitution to forbid the creation of legally recognized relationships between persons of the same sex."

The ELCA nationwide also changed its policy in 2009 to allow for openly gay and lesbian pastors in committed relationships.

Minnesota for Marriage, a coalition of groups including the state's Roman Catholic bishops, was formed in an effort to get the marriage amendment approved.

No desire to offend

While the state's Catholic bishops have been among the most vocal religious leaders in support of the amendment, Lutheran bishops representing the six synods in Minnesota have refrained from commenting in detail on the topic so far.

In a statement addressed to the Catholic bishops published in the Star Tribune in December, Herbert W. Chilstrom, former presiding bishop of the ELCA and a Minnesota resident, said they "are making a significant mistake" in working for adoption of the amendment.

Chilstrom said this week that he believes Minnesota's Lutheran bishops may have refrained from weighing in on the amendment because they have a longstanding "cordial" relationship with Catholic bishops and don't want to offend them.

"The other reason might be within their own synods," he said. "There of course would be people very much in favor of the marriage amendment. So they may be reluctant to offend people in their own synods.

"There are many gay and lesbian people who are in stable, long-term relationships, active in the church," he said. "I think that has moved me in the direction of saying I believe we need to respect these relationships, and we ought to accord them the same benefits we give to straight marriages."

Rose French • 612-673-4352