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Pope Francis has announced his support for a civil union law for same-sex couples.

The religious leader voiced his opinions in a documentary, “Francesco,” which premiered Wednesday during the Rome Film Festival.

“Homosexuals have a right to be a part of the family. 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 Pope said in the film. “What we have to create is a civil union law. That way they are legally covered. I stood up for that.”

While serving as archbishop of Buenos Aires, Francis endorsed civil unions for gay couples as an alternative to same-sex marriages. However, he had never come out publicly in favor of civil unions as pope, The Associated Press reported.

Led by Pope John Paul II, who served from 1978 to 2005, the Vatican’s Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith stated in 2003 that “respect for homosexual persons cannot lead in any way to approval of homosexual behavior or to legal recognition of homosexual unions. The common good requires that laws recognize, promote and protect marriage as the basis of the family, the primary unit of society.”

Benedict XVI, who preceded Pope Francis and served from 2005 to 2013, said that homosexuality is an “intrinsic moral evil.”

Officially, the Catholic Church deems homosexuality as “disordered,” according to The Washington Post.

“This is the first time as pope he’s making such a clear statement,” LGBT advocate Rev. James Martin told The Post. “I think it’s a big step forward. In the past, even civil unions were frowned upon in many quarters of the church. He is putting his weight behind legal recognition of same-sex civil unions.”

Pope Francis, who has publicly said that God loves all Catholics, including gay and lesbian followers of the faith, earned significant criticism in 2013 when he spoke of a gay person, saying, “Who am I to judge?”

He has not altered the religion’s official doctrine.

“Francesco” is set to premiere in the U.S. on Oct. 25 at the Savannah Film Festival, the Catholic News Agency reported.

Read more at The Associated Press and Catholic News Agency.

The Associated Press contributed to this story.

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