Pope Francis, head of the Catholic Church, has a reputation for being progressive, despite normally couching his language in vague or convoluted manners. But in a new documentary making waves in Italy, the Pope was much more direct: he supports some rights for LGBTQ people.
Nations should recognize civil unions for same-sex couples, he said, because they “have a right to a family.”
This isn’t the first time that the Pope has indicated his support for civil unions while still opposing full marriage equality, but it is the most direct.
“Homosexuals have a right to be a part of the family. They’re children of God and have a right to a family. Nobody should be thrown out, or be made miserable because of it,” Francis said in the film, speaking on his approach to pastoral care of congregants.
“What we have to create is a civil union law. That way they are legally covered,” he added. “I stood up for that.”
In a 2017 book, the Pope was quoted as saying, “Marriage between people of the same sex? ‘Marriage’ is a historical word. Always in humanity, and not only within the Church, it’s between a man and a woman… we cannot change that. This is the nature of things. This is how they are. Let’s call them ‘civil unions.'”
In a 2014 interview published in Corriere della Sera, an Italian daily, the pontiff suggested the Catholic Church could tolerate some types of same-sex civil unions as a practical measure to guarantee property rights and health care.
The pontiff said that “matrimony is between a man and a woman,” but moves to “regulate diverse situations of cohabitation (are) driven by the need to regulate economic aspects among persons, as for instance to assure medical care.”
Marcelo Marquez, a leading Argentine LGBTQ rights activist, said that during that nation’s 2010 debate over same-sex marriage, he received a phone call from the Pope — then Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio, the Archbishop of Buenos Aires.
According to Marquez, then Cardinal Bergoglio “told me… ‘I’m in favor of gay rights and in any case, I also favor civil unions for homosexuals, but I believe that Argentina is not yet ready for a gay marriage law.’”
Francis had led the Catholic Church’s public stance against legalizing same-sex marriage in Argentina while he was an archbishop. At the time, Francis called the proposed legislation “a destructive attack on God’s plan.”
“This is the first time as pope he’s making such a clear statement,” the Rev. James Martin, a prominent Jesuit, said in a phone interview with the Washington Post. “I think it’s a big step forward. In the past, even civil unions were frowned upon in many quarters of the church. He is putting his weight behind legal recognition of same-sex civil unions.”
But in 2018, the pontiff struck a different tone.
“It is painful to say this today — people speak of varied families, of various kinds of family,” Francis said, but “the family (as) man and woman in the image of God is the only one.”