Pope’s comments on civil unions are momentous

Pope Francis often has expressed openness to the idea of laws recognising civil unions, including for gay couples, to protect their rights.

Oct 24, 2020

By Cindy Wooden and Christopher Lamb
Pope Francis often has expressed openness to the idea of laws recognising civil unions, including for gay couples, to protect their rights.

The Pope’s comments in a brief passage in the documentary film, Francesco, are similar to the position he took while archbishop of Buenos Aires, Argentina, and echo remarks he has made in several interviews during his pontificate: ‘Marriage’ is only between a man and a woman, but civil union laws could provide legal protection for couples in long-term, committed relationships.

Speaking in Spanish in the film, Pope Francis says, “Homosexual people have a right to be in a family. They are children of God and have a right to a family. Nobody should be thrown out or be made miserable over it. What we have to create is a civil union law. That way they are legally covered.”

Pope Francis repeatedly has said publicly that parents should not and must not disown a child who is gay, and, on several occasions, he has spoken about the rights all people have to have a family.

In a 2019 interview on Mexican television, he was asked about his opposition to gay marriage in Argentina and his openness to LGBT people as Pope.

“I have always defended doctrine,” he said. “It is a contradiction to speak of homosexual marriage.”

But he also told the interviewer, “Homosexual persons have a right to be in the family; persons with a homosexual orientation have a right to be in the family and parents have the right to recognize a son or daughter as homosexual; you cannot throw anyone out of the family, nor make life impossible for them.”

In A Future of Faith: The Path of Change in Politics and Society, a book-length series of conversations with the French sociologist Dominique Wolton, the two spoke about gay marriage and civil unions in the context of a discussion about tradition, modernity and truth.

“‘Marriage’ is a historical word,” the Pope said, in the book published in French in 2017. “Forever, throughout humanity and not only in the Church, it’s been between a man and a woman. You can’t change it just like that. It’s the nature of things. That’s how they are. So, let’s call them ‘civil unions.'”

In a 2014 interview published in the Italian newspaper Corriere della Sera, Pope Francis was asked about moves across Europe to legalise gay marriage or adopt civil union laws.

“Marriage is between a man and a woman,” he said. “Secular states want to validate civil unions to regulate different situations of cohabitation, driven by the need to regulate economic aspects between people, such as ensuring health care. These are cohabitation pacts of various kinds, of which I could not list the different forms.”

“It is necessary to see the different cases and evaluate them in their variety,” he said, implying that some forms of civil unions would be acceptable.

Cardinal Vincent Nichols, the Archbishop of Westminster and President of the Bishops’ Conference of England and Wales, took a similar position ahead of the UK’s introduction of a same-sex marriage law in 2011, pointing out that that civil unions offered gay couples “protection and legal provision”.

Following the Pope’s latest interview, the Church appears to be moving closer to what was articulated in Westminster and Buenos Aires almost a decade ago which is to stress that marriage remains between a man and a woman, but to support – or not to oppose – the civil recognition of gay unions.

Some will say this is a new departure given the Vatican’s past opposition to civil unions, but the Pope has stressed that on the LGBT question he is following the Church’s Catechism which states that gay people be treated with “respect, compassion and sensitivity”. His shift has been in tone, language and emphasis. –– , CNS/Tablet

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