Pope Francis

In a reversal of decades — centuries, even — of anti-LGBTQ teachings from the Roman Catholic Church, Pope Francis has called for passage of civil union laws for same-sex couples.

“Homosexuals have a right to be part of the family,” the pope said in a documentary about his life, Francesco, which aired today (Wednesday, Oct. 21) in Rome. “They’re children of God and have a right to a family. Nobody should be thrown out or be made miserable because of it.”

As archbishop of Buenos Aires, Francis endorsed civil unions for same-sex couples as an alternative to same-sex marriages. He noted that again in the documentary, saying, “What we have to create is a civil union law. That way, they are legally covered. I stood up for that.”

This, however, is the first time he has done so since becoming pope.

Prof. Bruce Morrill, the chair in Roman Catholic Studies at Nashville’s Vanderbilt University and a Jesuit priest, told NBC News that if you look at “the trail of individual statements he has made here and there over his papacy,” Francis’ statement in support of civil unions isn’t surprising.

Morrill, also noted that the pope’s statement doesn’t change “any official policies, but in a very patriarchal way he is saying we should be kind and compassionate.”

While kind and compassionate are nice and all, it would be better if Francis actually supported legal marriage equality and if he were to actually change official policies in the church.

— Tammye Nash