A proposal that would allow openly gay clergy in the Lutheran Church showed strong support on Monday as it jumped through its first hurdle, the AP reported.

Representatives of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA), America's largest Lutheran denomination with nearly 5 million members, opened its biennial convention in Minneapolis, Minnesota this week. By Friday, they are expected to vote on a proposal that would repeal the church's ban on non-celibate gay pastors from leading churches.

The proposal is expected to draw a heated (but respectful, as is the Lutheran way) debate.

On Monday, church liberals won their first step towards passage of the proposal when they managed to stave off a move by conservatives that would have required a two-thirds majority to win approval, rather than a simple majority. The move was widely expected, but the resulting loss was not. Only 43 percent of representatives supported the measure.

Since the early 1990s the church has taken in gay and lesbian pastors, so long as they promise to remain celibate. But the reality on the ground is that several churches now say they are being led by pastors in gay relationships. The church officially removes these gay pastors from the ELCA clergy roster, but they often remain in their positions.

While the majority versus supermajority vote is not necessarily indicative of the proposal's final outcome, it is a decided victory for church liberals.