For the first time as head of the Catholic Church, Pope Francis endorsed same-sex civil unions in comments revealed in a documentary that premiered in Rome on Wednesday.
During a sit-down interview in the feature-length documentary Francesco, Francis told filmmaker Evgeny Afineevsky ''What we have to create is a civil union law. That way they are legally covered. I stood up for that."
Francis had previously expressed support for civil unions for same-sex couples during his tenure as archbishop of Buenos Aires, although this was as part of failed efforts to block a same-sex marriage law in Argentina and keep marriage as a heterosexual institution.
Asked by Afineevsky about the place of LGBTQI people in the church, Francis said they were welcome in the Catholic "family".
"Homosexuals have a right to be a part of the family," the Pope said. "They're children of God and have a right to a family. Nobody should be thrown out or be made miserable because of it."
The landmark comments were immediately welcomed by pro-LGBTQI Catholic groups as a massive step forward.
Francis DeBernardo, executive director of the Maryland-based New Ways Ministry said in a statement, "it is an historic moment when the leader of the Roman Catholic Church, long seen as a persecutor of LGBTQ people, moves in such a supportive direction for lesbian/gay couples and their families.''
He said the Pope's comments — his strongest statement ever in support of civil unions — would have a momentous effect on how members of the church treated the rainbow community.