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 couples have been legally permitted to enter into full-fledged civil marriage.

The Uniting Protestant Churches' working group proposed using different terms for the blessing of alternative life unions (zegening), and for the blessing of conventional marriages (inzegening). While admitting that this could give the impression that the church's concept of marriage had changed, the working group in its report declared, "This is not the case."

The report has already triggered strong criticism. While the current proposal maintains a distinction between marriage and the blessing of partnerships, the result would still be that "the church officially gives its blessing to that which is an abomination in God's eyes," according to the Protestant daily newspaper Reformatorisch Dagblad.

Related Elsewhere

The Uniting Protestant Churches in the Netherlands is online but without English translation.

Last year, the Dutch Parliament gave gay marriages the same legal status as heterosexual marriages.

Coverage of April's first same-sex weddings is available from the Associated Press, Washington Post, San Francisco Chronicle, BBC, Guardian, and Sydney Morning Herald.

Other recent Christianity Today articles about the Netherlands include:

Churches Divided Over Amsterdam's Same-Sex Weddings | April 1 midnight ceremony said to be world's first official gay wedding.(April 10, 2001)

After Much Debate, Dutch Churches Welcome Royal Engagement | Crown prince will wed daughter of leading official in Argentina's military junta. (Apr. 10, 2001)

Foot-and-Mouth Reveals 'Helplessness' of Humans, Say Dutch Churches | Uniting Protestant Churches back vaccination, but at least one Dutch Reformed clergyman sees God's judgment in outbreak. (Apr. 4, 2001)

Dutch Churches in Last-Ditch Effort to Stop Euthanasia Law | More than 50 religious and social organizations send petition to The Hague, hoping to defeat final vote. (Mar. 21, 2001)

Dutch Cardinal Says the Church Is Being Sidelined by the Government | Head of Roman Catholic Church in the Netherlands says prime minister refuses to meet with him. (Mar. 21, 2001)