By CBSLA Staff

ROME (CBS NEWS) — Pope Francis endorsed same-sex civil unions for the first time as pope while being interviewed for the feature-length documentary “Francesco,” which premiered Wednesday at the Rome Film Festival.

The papal thumbs-up came midway through the film that delves into issues Francis cares about most, including the environment, poverty, migration, racial and income inequality, and the people most affected by discrimination.

Pope Francis passes by a Swiss guard as he arrives in the Paul VI hall on the occasion of the weekly general audience at the Vatican. Oct. 21, 2020. (Getty Images)

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“Homosexual people have the right to be in a family. They are children of God,” Francis said in one of his sit-down interviews for the film. “What we have to have is a civil union law; that way they are legally covered.”

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.

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The Jesuit priest who has been at the forefront in seeking to build bridges with gay people in the church, the Rev. James Martin, praised the pope’s comments as “a major step forward in the church’s support for LGBT people.”

“The Pope’s speaking positively about civil unions also sends a strong message to places where the church has opposed such laws,” Martin said in a statement.

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