Pope Francis: Second look at civil unions?

Did he really mean this or is this yet another case of the media exaggerating Francis’s more liberal-sounding pronouncements to better suit their agenda? Seems fairly clear, at least, that he thinks the Church could tolerate civil unions between heterosexual couples, although that raises the question of what “tolerance” would mean. Cohabitation presumably isn’t a problem, just as contracts between men and women aren’t a problem. The problem, potentially, is relaxing the sanction against premarital sex.

Pope Francis suggested the Catholic Church could tolerate some types of nonmarital civil unions as a practical measure to guarantee property rights and health care. He also said the church would not change its teaching against artificial birth control but should take care to apply it with “much mercy.”…

“Matrimony is between a man and a woman,” the pope said, but moves to “regulate diverse situations of cohabitation (are) driven by the need to regulate economic aspects among persons, as for instance to assure medical care.” Asked to what extent the church could understand this trend, he replied: “It is necessary to look at the diverse cases and evaluate them in their variety.”


In January, the Pope recalled a little girl in Buenos Aires who told her teacher that she was sad because “my mother’s girlfriend doesn’t like me.”

“The situation in which we live now provides us with new challenges which sometimes are difficult for us to understand,” the Pope told leaders of religious orders, adding that the church “must be careful not to administer a vaccine against faith to them.”

A Christian friend who supports gay marriage has always insisted to me that there’s no real contradiction between her faith and her views on SSM. Religion has its sphere and civil society has its sphere; so long as the Church gets to set the rules in its own house, i.e. by not having to recognize or perform same-sex marriages, it can be agnostic about which sorts of relationships the government chooses to legally recognize. I don’t know if Francis would go that far, although there are credible reports that he privately endorsed civil unions for gays in Argentina as a potential compromise position while the country was debating legalizing gay marriage. Either way, the bit above about taking care not to vaccinate people against faith is consistent with his pronouncements on family/sexual matters so far: He seems reluctant to get caught up in these disputes for fear that they’ll sidetrack his bigger-picture vision for the Church, which has more to do with charity for the poor and less with culture-war flashpoints that risk alienating more socially liberal believers. It’s not quite a “truce” a la Mitch Daniels but more a matter of emphasis. Or so it seems to a humble atheist.

Meanwhile, back home in the U.S., 59 percent now support legalizing gay marriage versus 34 percent who oppose it. Those who “strongly” oppose it are down to 24 percent, the first time in ABC/WaPo’s polling that that number has dipped below 30. The numbers that really grabbed me, though, come from another recent poll on SSM conducted by the Public Religion Research Institute. Can this really be true?


Only 22 percent of gay-marriage opponents know that most Americans now support the practice? That makes me wonder if, as some SSM supporters (like me) expected, the rash of high-profile court decisions has convinced opponents that legalization is a purely top-down phenomenon imposed by cultural elites rather than something that’s gained wide popular acceptance. Politically, you’re much better off having this done through legislatures to show that the changes enjoy democratic legitimacy than having it done by judges. Oh well. Too late now.