Pope Francis has voiced support for same-sex couples, calling them "children of God" and saying they should be allowed to have legally recognized civil unions, in a radical shift from previous pontiffs.
The Pope, whose opposition to gay marriage remains unchanged, said in a documentary premiered at the Rome Film Festival: "These are children of God, they have the right to a family.”
"What we have to create is a law of civil union, they have the right to be legally protected. I have defended that," he said in film-maker Evgeny Afineevsky's "Francesco."
The Pope's statements prompted Malacañang to reiterate President Rodrigo Duterte’s support for same-sex marriage, saying Catholic lawmakers have no more basis to oppose it.
"The President has said it over and over again. He is in favor of a law that would recognize the civil union for same-sex relationships,” presidential spokesman Harry Roque said.
“With no less than the Pope supporting it, I think even the most conservative of all Catholics in Congress should no longer have a basis for objecting,” he said.
"What we have to create is a civil union law. That way they are legally covered," the Pope said.
Pope Francis in the past said that he is not against civil unions, but this is the first time as Pope that has directly come out in favor of them.
In December 2017, Duterte said in a speech that he was in favor of changing the law to allow same-sex marriage in the Philippines.
But the Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines warned at the time against pushing the country toward recognition of same-sex relationships.
Last year, Bishop Honesto Ongtico reminded the Philippine faithful that “marriage, as willed by God, is between a man and a woman.”
Bishop Ramon Arguelles of Lipa agreed. “In the eyes of God, a married couple is a man and a woman,” he said.
“The purpose of marriage is to have a family, kids, but if the couple is of the same sex then one who will suffer the most in this situation is their child because it’s not normal,” Arguelles said.
The Philippines is the foremost Catholic nation in Asia. Roughly 80 percent of the population are Catholics where legalizing same-sex marriage remains one of the most polarizing issues, with the Church teachings that “homosexual acts” are sinful.
Two lawmakers on Thursday expressed hope that several legislators will support the passage of pending bills on same-sex civil unions.
“With Pope Francis sharing his thoughts about this issue, let us be optimistic that more legislators in the House and in the Senate become open and supportive to the objectives of House Bill 2264,” Davao del Norte Rep. Pantaleon Alvarez said in a statement.
Alvarez wrote House Bill 2264 or the Civil Partnership Act, which is pending before the House committee on women and gender equality.
“Our LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender) brothers and sisters deserve to have protections, under the law, for their respective union with the person they choose to be their life partner,” Alvarez added.
Alvarez said HB 2264 was “stuck in the doldrums,” but with the recent remarks from the Pope, the lawmaker is hopeful that his colleagues, as well as the senators “will be enlightened too.”
“For some, maybe they’ll need more time to digest the signs of the times. But let us be patient because, in the end, reality eventually catches up,” Alvarez said.
Bagong Henerasyon Party-list Rep. Bernadette Herrera said Pope Francis' pronouncement favoring same-sex civil unions will finally move her bill forward after a long period of dormancy.
Herrera is the author of House Bill 1357 or An Act Recognizing the Civil Partnership of Couples, Providing their Rights and Obligations, which is also pending before the House committee on women and gender equality.
“The public support of Pope Francis for the enactment of civil union laws could be exactly the impetus needed so that opposition to the civil partnership bill will melt away,” Herrera said in a statement.
“The issue of same-sex civil union is not about religion, but about human rights,” she said.
According to biographer Austen Ivereigh, the future pope backed civil unions for gay couples while he was still the archbishop of Buenos Aires and known as Jorge Bergoglio.
But while Francis has previously spoken about same-sex unions, he has always voiced opposition to gay marriage, saying that marriage should only be between a man and woman.
"'Marriage' is a historic word," he told French sociologist Dominique Wolton in a 2017 book of interviews.
"Always among human beings, and not only in the Church, it has been between a man and a woman. You can't just change that like that."
"Since the beginning of the pontificate the Pope has spoken of respect for homosexuals and has been against their discrimination," Vatican expert Vania de Luca told RaiNews.
"The novelty today is that he defends as Pope a law for civil unions."
After becoming pope in 2013, Francis took an unprecedented welcoming tone towards LGBTQ individuals, launching his famous phrase, "Who am I to judge?" and welcoming gay couples to the Vatican on several occasions.
The two-hour documentary screened on Wednesday traces the seven years of his pontificate and his travels.
Among the most moving moments of the film is the Pope's phone call to a gay couple, parents of three young children, in response to a letter they sent him saying how ashamed they were to bring their children to their parish.
Francis invites them to continue to go to church regardless of the judgements of others.
In the past, he has regularly said gay people should be accepted in their parishes and urged parents not to reject their children.
And on his first foreign trip as Pope, to Brazil in 2013, he asked "who am I to judge?" about members of the LGBTQ community.
He has since received many gay people for private audiences, infuriating the Church's more conservative wing.
Chilean Juan Carlos Cruz, an activist against sexual abuse within the Church, accompanied the director to the film screening on Wednesday.
"When I met Pope Francis he told me he was very sorry about what happened. 'Juan, it is God who made you gay and he loves you anyway.
God loves you and the Pope loves you too'," Cruz recalled in the film.
The Pope's favorable stance on civil unions marks a step away from a 2003 document prepared by the Vatican's dogma office, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith.
At the time, the body opposed official recognition for gay individuals, saying it could "devalue the institution of marriage," said Vatican expert Christopher Lamb of British Catholic newspaper TheTablet.
The assessment was prepared by then-Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, the future Pope Benedict XVI.
By contrast, in 2014 the secretary-general of an important synod (gathering of bishops) Bruno Forte called for gay couples to enjoy legal recognition.
In a paper, the clerics wrote that "homosexuals have gifts and qualities to offer to the Christian community. Are we capable of welcoming these people, guaranteeing to them a fraternal space in our communities?" With AFP