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'The Pope Is Helping Us With That Message': Local LGBT Leader Says Pope's Support Of Same-Sex Unions Step Toward Equality

LOS ANGELES (CBSLA) — Pope Francis made history Wednesday, becoming the first pontiff to endorse same-sex civil unions.

Pope Francis Leads The Prayer For Peace
ROME, ITALY - OCTOBER 20: Pope Francis holds his speech during an International Prayer Meeting for Peace "No one is saved alone - Peace and Fraternity" at the Roman Basilica of Aracoeli on October 20, 2020 in Rome, Italy. An Appeal for Peace is signed in Rome by Pope Francis and by leaders of world religions gathered at the International Prayer Meeting for Peace "No one is saved alone - Peace and Fraternity". (Photo by Vatican Pool/Getty Images)

"Homosexual people have the right to be in a family," he said in a new feature-length documentary. "They are children of God. You can't kick someone out of a family, nor make their life miserable for this. What we have to have is a civil union law; that way they are legally covered."

It was a momentous announcement for LGBT Catholics, like Eddie Martinez who lives in Los Angeles.

"For so many years, I was shamed," he said. "I was ashamed of who I was, I was in the closet, I thought there was something wrong with me, and it was all because of the teachings from the church."

Martinez, who is now the director of the nonprofit Latino Equality Alliance, grew up in Huntington Park going to church every Sunday at St. Matthias Church.

He said the pope's announcement meant a lot to him and would hopefully have a positive effect on the LGBT community.

"Be the pope coming out and expressing what he said today, in the documentary, it really gives a lot of families a better understanding that having a LGTB loved one — a brother, sisters, aunt, tia, abuelita — that it's OK. You exist."

And while the majority of people online have reacted positively to the pope's announcement, a handful have not. Martinez said it just shows that there is a long way to go in the fight for equality.

"If you just focus on love and use that love to understand and accept people, you will eventually fully understand what it means to have someone that's LGBT and love that person for who they are," he said. "And the pope is helping us with that message."

And though Martinez said supporting civil unions was a step in the right direction, he still hopes that someday the Catholic Church will speak out in support of marriage equality for all.

But Fr. Thomas Rausch, professor of Catholic theology at Loyola Marymount University, said the move to support the rights of LGBT people in civil society is different from supporting same-sex marriage, which is a "sacramental issue."

"Some people are confusing the two," he said.

And while Rausch said he expects some conservative — "some of them very wealthy" — Catholics to oppose the pope's message and accuse him of trying to change Catholic doctrine, even though that was not the case.

Instead, he said the pope was trying to invite people back to the church by using a more compassionate approach.

"He wants to really present the face of the church as a welcoming church, and I think that speaks to the deep pastoral sensitivities of this pope," Rausch said. "It's not just those that are marginal. We've lost all sorts of Catholics from the church as have the other churches. We live in a very secular age."

The documentary, "Francesco," premiered Wednesday at the Rome Film Festival. It will be available in the U.S. next week.

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