Minneapolis-area Lutherans will be asked to go on record against the proposed marriage amendment to the state Constitution -- the first time a major Lutheran body has weighed in on the amendment that would define marriage as a union between a man and woman.

Close to 1,000 Lutherans, representing the congregations in the Minneapolis Area Synod of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, are slated to vote Friday at the group's annual assembly. The resolution states the marriage 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 other."

The Lutheran proposal shows the divide among faith groups over the amendment that will be on the general election ballot Nov. 6.

The Catholic Church, the largest single denomination in the state with close to 1.1 million members, has come out in favor of the amendment. ELCA Lutherans are the second-largest religious denomination in Minnesota with nearly 800,000 members.

While the state's Catholic bishops have been vocal in support of the amendment, Lutheran bishops representing the six synods in Minnesota have remained virtually mum on the topic so far.

St. Paul synod may be next

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 yet brought up resolutions addressing the marriage amendment, leaders say. The Minneapolis synod is the nation's largest with approximately 188,710 baptized members.

If the Minneapolis synod resolution passes, it wouldn't be the first time members have supported the idea of same-sex unions. The 2004 assembly of the synod 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 openly gay and lesbian ministers in committed relationships to serve as pastors.

Charles Lutz, a lay leader at Lutheran Church of Christ the Redeemer in Minneapolis and an author of the resolution, said his pastor is lesbian and in a committed relationship. He thought it important for the synod to oppose the amendment.

"We see [the resolution] as flowing from the ELCA's action at their churchwide assembly ... in 2009, which adopted a social statement on human sexuality, that did talk about the need for same-sex couples to have legal rights," Lutz said. "There's a history in our synod, if not the whole ELCA, of taking a stand for gay and lesbian rights."

Pastors' views 'appropriate'

Minnesota for Marriage, a coalition of groups including Minnesota's Catholic bishops, formed in an effort to get the marriage amendment approved. Chuck Darrell, a spokesman for the group, said in an e-mailed statement it's "appropriate people of all faiths, including ELCA pastors, express their views on marriage, the bedrock of society. That is why the Marriage Protection Amendment was put on the ballot, so that all Minnesotans, not just activist judges and politicians, can have their voice heard."

While individual houses of worship and religious-affiliated groups have weighed in on the marriage amendment -- both for and against it -- few institutions or denominations have done so.

A group of 35 rabbis with the Minnesota Rabbinical Association recently signed a statement opposing the amendment. The Episcopal Church in Minnesota also passed a resolution in October at its annual convention opposing the measure. The state's Catholic bishops have launched a highly organized campaign aimed at getting Catholics to vote in favor of the amendment.

The Rev. Harold L. Usgaard, bishop of the Southeastern Minnesota Synod of the ELCA, said he doesn't think the state's Lutheran bishops are planning to issue a joint statement on the amendment.

"We're a church ... with very diverse opinions" Usgaard said. After the 2009 vote to allow gay clergy, for example, hundreds of congregations left the ELCA.

"It just makes it very difficult to push people to make a decision [about the amendment] or congregation to vote one way or another," he said. "So right now I don't have a whole lot to say to address that issue. ... We don't have a theology like the Catholics do that comes down so strongly in the position they have."

Rose French • 612-673-4352