In the new documentary about the life of Pope Francis, ‘Francesco’, he called for recognition of civil unions that would provide legal protection for same-sex couples. He stated, “Homosexuals are children of God and have the right to be in a family.” The Pope told an interviewer in this documentary, “What we have to create is a civil union law, that way they are legally covered.” His remarks are the first time the Pope has spoken out in favour of civil unions since becoming Pope in 2013 and have led to positive responses in the news and social media surrounding what is seen as a huge step forward for the Vatican.
Some of the positive responses include a tweet from Stonewall U.K. which stated “It’s immensely powerful and moving to hear Pope Francis endorse civil unions for same-sex couples.” Other LGBT rights-based organizations such as the Ozanne Foundation highlight that “this will bring hope to millions of lesbian and gay couples around the world, and will enable them to know that they have the Pope’s blessing to be in a family, and indeed to have a right to a family.” The Human Rights Watch recognizes that “the Pope’s remarks may not immediately translate into stronger protections for LGBT people, but they offer a powerful reminder that LGBT families deserve respect and recognition at a time when that fact is too often ignored.”
While it is irrefutable that this signifies a significant positive change in the Church’s attitude towards LGBT communities, it is questionable whether it is enough. Criticisms that argue that his comments stop short of calling for marriage equality are valid. Pope Francis hasn’t said anything all that radical. The movement towards legal protections for same-sex couples is a welcome one – especially in countries like Paraguay, Poland and the Philippines where LGBT people lack basic recognition and protections. However, it remains to be seen whether these words will be followed by actions to protect the global LGBT community. The support for the Pope can easily overshadow recent negative comments, for example, Pope Francis has previously criticized same-sex adoption, saying that every child needs a mother and father. In 2019, a document released by the Vatican claimed that “gender ideology” is a “move away from nature” highlighting pervasive transphobia and the work that remains to be done.
The Catholic Church’s history with homo- and transphobia is a long one. The Church has long upheld that marriage can only be between a man and a woman, and has opposed legal recognition of same-sex unions, for example in Ireland’s 2015 referendum on the topic. This has led to slow progress with only 29 countries currently extending the right to marry to same-sex couples, while at least 14 provide civil unions that extend some degree of legal protection to same-sex relationships. And in the past, the Vatican has publicly opposed violence and discrimination against LGBT people, including the criminalization of same-sex activity.
The Pope’s statement raises hope for public perceptions of the LGBT community. However, there is still much work to be done to ensure the safety of LGBT communities from the violence that is currently pervasive around the globe. As reported in the Gay Times, “With his stance on the LGBTQ+ community switching between supportive to homophobic, we can only wait to see where the Pope and his views will go next.” What is needed next is more than words: it is action to ensure that LGBT communities around the world have their human rights realized.
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