Slovenians rejected equal marriage and adoption rights for same-gender couples in Sunday’s national referendum, an outcome encouraged by Pope Francis who opined on the vote last week.
63.5% of voters rejected the marriage equality law approved by Parliament last March, which had defined civil marriage as the union of two adults and equalized adoption rights reported the Associated Press. LGBT opponents acted quickly to the law’s passage, with a church-supported group called “Children Are At Stake” gathering nearly 40,000 signatures to file for the referendum. Slovenia is 60% Catholic, and it remains conservative on LGBT issues despite being more socially progressive than other post-Soviet nations.
LGBT-negative voices received a boost from Pope Francis during his Wednesday audience the week before Slovenia’s referendum. According to The New Civil Rights Movement, Francis told the general audience which included Slovenian pilgrims:
“I wish to encourage all Slovenians, especially those in public capacity, to preserve the family as the basic unit of society.”
This is not Pope Francis’ first time using a general audience to weigh in on marriage equality. In February, the pontiff endorsed an effort in Slovakia to ban equal marriage and adoption rights, as well as parental consent laws regarding sexual education in schools. In that case, the vote failed.
The pope’s interventions raise at least two issues for me.
First, Pope Francis’ language was similar in both appeals by focusing on the family as the “basic unit” or “vital cell” of society. Like many LGBT advocates, I agree with this sentiment, and I believe strengthening families is key for the common good. Strengthening this basic unit is precisely what expanding family law to include same-gender couples and their children does. Denying equal rights only undermines families. Pope Francis may be relying upon debunked sociological data frequently employed by anti-LGBT voices. Regardless, it appears he needs to update his understanding of LGBT families today (which have been noticeably absent from the institutional church’s ongoing reflections about family life in the last two years).
Second, why is Pope Francis endorsing political campaigns in Slovenia and Slovakia while foregoing similar interventions elsewhere. Certainly, the pope must contextualize his remarks. But he said nothing about marriage equality during his visit to the U.S., despite the bishops’ likely desires that he condemn Obergfell. Moreover, he avoided LGBT criminalization completely when in Kenya and Uganda recently. Such selective remarks may be coincidence, but they may also reveal Pope Francis to be appeasing different audiences when it comes to LGBT issues. Preaching mercy to some audiences while simultaneously encouraging other audiences to deny equal rights is disingenuous at best.
Legislators with the United Left party in Slovenia said the referendum is merely a setback, with MP Violeta Tomic saying, “Sooner or later the law will be accepted.” In the meantime, LGBT Slovenians will remain second-class citizens without access to marriage or adoption rights, due in part to Pope Francis’ intervention against equality. This is not a hopeful start for the Year of Mercy in terms of LGBT human rights and the pope.
–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry