A leading evangelical Church in West Germany which has 2.6 million members has voted to allow same-sex marriage.
The Rheinische Evangelische Kirche voted overwhelmingly to allow future gay marriage and to legitimise as marriages the blessing ceremonies that have already taken place. Priests who oppose the move will be allowed to refuse, and couples will be offered an alternative pastor.
The Rhineland Church, which has more than 700 parishes and is the second largest church group in Germany, made the change at its synod last week. Cologne, known as a centre of gay nightlife in Germany, is at the heart of the church's territory.
Like many in the West, the Church is declining and is believed to have lost up to one million members since 1975.
Conservatives have criticised the decision. Wolfgang Sickinger, of the Evangelischen Sammlung im Rheinland, told Idea news agency that the Church had ignored clear Biblical teaching, as if it "knows better", and the teaching could now be regarded as invalid.
North Rhine-Westphalia's Minister of Emancipation, Barbara Steffens of the Green Party, told queer.de: "I'm very happy about this decision, because it is inspired by what should be at the heart of marriage. Loving devotion, which all humans can experience, no matter their sexual orientation."
The Church was the second main grouping to adopt the new policy in Germany. The Evangelical Church of Berlin-Brandenburg is expected to follow suit in April.