Leaders of the nation's largest Lutheran church have voted to allow sexually active gays and lesbians in committed relationships to serve as clergy.

Gays and lesbians are currently allowed to serve as ministers in the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America only if they remain celibate. The proposal passed Friday night with 68 percent approval.

At 4.7 million members and about 10,000 congregations in the United States, the ELCA is one of the largest U.S. Christian denominations yet to take a more gay-friendly stance on clergy.

The final decision on whether to hire gay clergy in committed relationships will lie with individual congregations.

Critics predict that its passage will prompt individual congregations to split off from the denomination.