The largest Protestant church body in the Netherlands has moved a step closer to approving the blessing of same-sex partnerships.

A working group report of the Uniting Protestant Churches in the Netherlands (Samen op Weg-kerken) has recommended that the church allow for the blessing of "alternative relationships."

A federation of the two main Reformed churches and the smaller Lutheran church, the Uniting Protestant Churches represent 2.74 million Christians.

The church's working group, which was charged with preparing a draft of the proposed church law, acknowledged that the issue was controversial. While most church members were in favor of blessing alternative relationships—also referred to as life unions—strong opposition remained within the two Reformed churches.

The report, announced on July 10, came after a lengthy consultation process in which local congregations, churches and regional assemblies gave responses to the initial draft of the proposal, which was issued in 1997. Their responses were incorporated into the report.

The churches' three synods will vote on the revised proposal at joint meetings in November 2001 and May 2002. After the second reading, the proposal would form church law.

The working group recommended that final decision-making authority on whether life unions—including those of same-sex couples—may be blessed within a given congregation rest with the individual church.

Couples that seek a church blessing would have to show that theirs is a lasting relationship based on "love and fidelity." The partnership would also have to be registered with civil authorities, although not necessarily as a marriage.

In January 1998, Dutch civil law recognized registered partnerships. As of April of this year, same-sex ...

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