After decades of attempts by the Catholic Church to break marriage equality, Pope Francis has called for civil union for same-sex couples.
“What we need to create is a civil union law. That way they are legally covered, ”Pope Francis said in a new documentary, speaking about how to support LGBTQ people, according to the catholic news agency. “I stood up for this.”
“Homosexuals have the right to be part of the family,” said the Pope. “They are children of God and have a right to a family. No one should be kicked out or made miserable because of this.”
Evgeny Afineevsky’s new documentary, Francesco, premiered Wednesday at the Rome Film Festival and focuses on how the Pope cares for and helps underprivileged communities.
His comments in the film are the first time Francis openly calls for legal protections for same-sex relationships as a pontiff.
In 2003, the Vatican Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith – then under the leadership of Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, later Pope Benedict XVI – declared that “the legal recognition of same-sex unions or their upgrading to marriage would not only signify the approval of deviant behavior, with the consequence of making it a model in present-day society, but would also obscure the fundamental values which belong to the common heritage of humanity.
There were reports in the past that Francis privately supported civil unions in 2010, when he was Archbishop of Buenos Aires and the country passed laws on marriage equality, but they were disputed.
The Pope has never supported same-sex marriage or official Church recognition of same-sex relationships.
After Wednesday’s news, Catholic LGBTQ activists spoke enthusiastically but hesitantly about the news.
“If this is a public recognition that same-sex couples deserve – and the church will no longer block – the legal recognition of committed relationships, it is clearly a game-changer internationally”, Marianne Duddy-Burke, Executive Director of DignityUSA, an LGBTQ Catholic organization, told BuzzFeed News.
But although Duddy-Burke called the Pope’s comments “very significant,” she wanted more clarification on exactly what the Pope meant.
“I think it’s going to raise a range of emotions from jubilation to skepticism in the queer Catholic community,” she said. “Does this go to something that is going to be ‘clarified’ by the Vatican in the days to come?”
The Vatican did not respond to a request for comment.
Francis DeBernardo, executive director of the Catholic LGBTQ advocacy group New Ways Ministry, said he “welcomes” the pope’s comments, although he also hopes the pope will recognize these relationships within the church as well.
“This is a historic moment when the head of the Roman Catholic Church, long seen as a persecutor of LGBTQ people, is taking such a favorable direction for lesbian / gay couples and their families,” DeBernardo said.
“It is no exaggeration to say that with this declaration, not only has the Pope protected LGBTQ couples and families, but he will also save many LGBTQ lives,” De Bernardo said.
Francesco made its US premiere on Sunday at the Savannah Film Festival.