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Will the Pope’s Support for Same‑Sex Civil Unions Mean Greater Acceptance for LGBTQ+ People?

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Oct 22, 2020

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The Pope voiced his support for legal recognition of same-sex civil unions, sparking celebration and censure alike. But, will it translate into greater acceptance or equal rights for the LGBTQ+ community?

“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. … What we have to create is a civil union law. That way, they are legally covered,” Pope Francis said in a documentary, Francesco, which debuted at the ongoing Rome Film Festival. Reportedly, the Vatican has declined to comment.

The statement is a bit of an about-face for the Vatican, which has a long history of phobia toward LGBTQ+ people. Just last year, the Vatican had issued a manifesto rejecting the notion that gender identity is fluid. But of late, the church appears to be inching towards more liberal beliefs with the Vatican wiring relief funds for Covid19 to trans sex workers in May, then appointing six women to a 15-member council to oversee its finances in August, and, as recently as last month, the Pope saying that sex and food are “simply divine” pleasures that arrive “directly from God,” in addition to condemning the church’s  “overzealous morality” on these subjects in the past, which “caused enormous harm, which can still be felt strongly today.”

“This is the first time as Pope he’s making such a clear statement. 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,” Reverend James Martin, who has advocated for the church to openly welcome LGBTQ+ members, told The Washington Post.

With same-sex unions already legal in some European countries, including Italy, which surrounds the Vatican, some activists say the Pope is behind the curve socially even if his remarks are a major shift within the church. While a statement made in a documentary won’t automatically alter Catholic doctrine, activists are celebrating the remarkable shift in the viewpoint of the church on homosexuality; past popes have refused to accept LGBTQ+ people as church members and condemned same-sex unions as inappropriate or even deviant. “It is late but at least it happened. I think it will help our fight. … I hope this is a new chapter that is beginning,” Bartosz Staszewski, an LGBTQ+ activist from Poland, said.


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What Queerness Can Teach Us About Reimagining Relationships Beyond Rigid Conventions, Marriage


Conservatives have sought a clarification from the church, with some claiming the Pope was mistaken and “subject to all the ordinary human fallibilities — ambiguity, incompleteness, and even outright error.” Others have shot back by doubling down on the church’s long history of homophobia: “The Pope’s statement clearly contradicts what has been the long-standing teaching of the church about same-sex unions. The church cannot support the acceptance of objectively immoral relationships,” Bishop Thomas Tobin of Providence, Rhode Island, U.S., said yesterday.

On the other side, some liberals have also critiqued the Pope’s statements as not going far enough. “I see in Pope Francis’s latest remarks no potential for his enacting changes to official Roman Catholic teaching concerning the ‘intrinsically disordered’ character of homosexual orientation. Throughout his papacy he has steadily made such remarks in his spirit of ‘mercy,’ while resisting any changes in church doctrine or polity,” Bruce Morrill, a professor of Roman Catholic studies at Vanderbilt University, told Reuters. However, he added, the pope’s remarks could still have an impact on Catholicism’s cultural, if not doctrinal, acceptance of the queer community, as Catholics “take very seriously what a given Pope has to say.”

Ultimately, responses within the LGBTQ+ community seem to be optimistic that the Pope’s statement would help the fight for equality. “The potential for this is enormous, but I don’t want to get ahead of the possibilities here until we really understand what’s going on… If it signals that the Vatican is going to stop being an impediment to legal protections for same-sex couples and our families? I mean that is an international game-changer,” said Marianne Duddy-Burke, Executive Director at DignityUSA, a non-profit organization focused on the intersection between LGBTQ+ rights and the Catholic Church.

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Written By Devrupa Rakshit

Devrupa Rakshit is an associate editor with The Swaddle. She is a lawyer by education, a poet by accident, and a painter by shaukh. She has her own podcast called #DateNightsWithD on Spotify. You can find her on Instagram @devruparakshit.

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