Activists in Bahamas, South Africa, Poland, Elsewhere Laud Pope’s Civil Union Support

Alexus D’Marco

For many commentators, Pope Francis’ comments reiterating his support for civil unions that recognize same-gender couples did not go far enough. On the other hand, there are also voices who note that the simple fact of Francis speaking positively of LGBTQ people makes a tremendous impact in areas where LGBTQ people remain very much at risk. Here are a some of those reactions and others.

Alexus D’Marco, who founded the Bahamas Organisation of LGBTI Affairs, expressed hope to Tribune 24 that the pope’s comments would help advance LGBTQ rights in that country:

“‘I do think it’s very progressive of the Pope to make such a statement. . .In our country and in our climate the issue is the word marriage because it comes from a biblical text.

“‘But the Pope used the phrase “civil unions”. Everybody has a right to family. That’s a civil liberty. That’s a civil right. Everybody has a right to marriage. Everybody has a right to protect their assets. Marriage is a way of protecting one’s assets.’

“‘I am optimistic that we will be moving in the correct direction as it relates to civil unions and rights for LGBTI people in the country.'”

Matthew Charlesworth, SJ, of The Jesuit Institute South Africa, wrote of the pope’s support for civil unions:

“This is a work of justice, especially in a continent where so many countries still criminalise homosexuals with imprisonment, or worse, capital punishment. In recognising civil unions he is signalling that criminalising homosexual behaviour can no longer be tolerated. It is not in keeping with the global understanding of human rights, nor the Christian law of love.”

Graeme Reid, director of Human Rights Watch’s LGBT Program, called the pope’s remarks a “quantum leap,” writing:

“Francis’s moderating tone has shifted the conceptual landscape in which homosexuality is imagined and judged. His endorsement of civil unions takes this a step further. The pope is saying society will not fall, and will indeed be strengthened if the civil, secular law provides orderly recognition of same-sex relationships. That is a quantum leap. No wonder activists from countries such as Bolivia, the Philippines, Poland, Uganda, and Zimbabwe have welcomed his remarks. It is a ‘do as I say, not as I do’ scenario, as Catholic doctrine remains unchanged, but what Pope Francis said on civil unions matters a great deal.”

Bartosz Staszewski, a Polish LGBTQ activist struggling against an extremely right wing political party supported by Catholic leaders, told Reuters:

“‘This argument that even the pope is for civil partnerships is very needed and we will definitely use it in our fight for civil unions and same-sex marriage.'”

Jacob Kohlhaas, a moral theologian, wrote in U.S. Catholic that the pope envisions a church with a “more messy and open style,” which is in discernment and where there may be inconsistencies between the present conversation and the written teachings. Kohlhaas commented at one point:

“Unlike previous considerations of civil unions, Pope Francis appears to be approaching this issue primarily out of concern for the rights and well-being of individuals in same-sex relationships. This prioritizing of the person and their situation is characteristic of a pope who has repeatedly emphasized the importance of pastoral care and mercy.

“The church is an old institution and statements of the last 30 years cannot be taken as absolute limitations on future possibilities as social issues and moral perspective continue to evolve. Considered within historical context, it was not long ago that the Catholic Church vehemently opposed the right of states to legally regulate marriage while today this same power of the state is accepted as central to Catholic considerations of same-sex civil unions.”

For Bondings 2.0’s complete coverage of Pope Francis’ remarks on civil unions, the controversy surrounding them, and more reactions, click here.

Robert Shine, New Ways Ministry, December 3, 2020

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