Pope Francis Endorses Same-Sex Civil Unions in First for Catholic Church
In a progressive milestone for the Catholic Church, footage became public Wednesday of Pope Francis endorsing the concept of same-sex civil unions. In an interview for the documentary Francesco, which premiered this week at the Rome Film Festival, the Pope insists that gay people are children of God and deserve to be part of a family. The statement marks a pivotal moment for the Church, which has long denounced any form of homosexual behaviour, and has rejected the concept of same-sex marriage.
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“Homosexual people have the right to be in a family,” Pope Francis says in the film. “They are children of God. You can’t kick someone out of a family, nor make their life miserable for this. What we have to have is a civil union law; that way they are legally covered.”
The Pope makes the statement during a larger discussion about the issues most dear to him. Among them, the environment, poverty, migration, and racial equality. But this is not the first time that Francis has shown some openness to unions between Catholics of the same sex. As archbishop of Buenos Aires, Francis endorsed civil unions for gay couples as an alternative to same-sex marriage. Still, Wednesday’s revelations are the first time that he has spoken so candidly in support of gay unions since ascending to the Papacy in 2013.
Since becoming Pope, Francis has been seen as a progressive figure, at least by the standards of the Catholic Church. In 2013, he famously responded to a question about where gay people fit into the Catholic Church by asking, “Who am I to judge?”
Many believe that Francis has brought a modern outlook to the Church, which for years has seen declining membership. By adapting a less judgmental tone—and concentrating the Church’s efforts on fighting poverty and injustice—he has made the age-old institution more palatable to young adherents.
The Rev. James Martin, a fellow Jesuit who has been at the forefront of welcoming queer Catholics into the Church, praised Francis’ comments. Martin called the Pope’s candor “a major step forward in the Church’s support for LGBT people.”
“The Pope’s speaking positively about civil unions also sends a strong message to places where the Church has opposed such laws,” Martin wrote in a statement.
Additionally, the Pope’s statement that “homosexual people have the right to be in a family” is a major step forward for the institution. In the United States alone, somewhere between 20 and 40 percent of homeless youth identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender. A huge contributor to this crisis is rejection by the family, often on religious grounds.
But Francis’ theology has often emphasized love and acceptance of others, even if their actions are transgressive. In affirming the right of gay people to be part of a family, with the right to build their own families through civil unions, the Pope has sent a strong message to the global Catholic community: all people have equal value before God.