The Vatican more liberal than the US bishops on same-sex marriage?

The Vatican’s top official on family life endorsed legal protections for same-sex couples in his first public press conference in the Vatican earlier this week. Reporting on the first Vaitican press conference by the head of the Pontifical Council for the Family, Archbishop Vincenzo Paglia, Religion News Service wrote:

Paglia conceded that there are several kinds of “cohabitation forms that do not constitute a family,” and that their number is growing. Paglia suggested that nations could find “private law solutions” to help individuals who live in non-matrimonial relations, “to prevent injustice and make their life easier.”

He also said he would “like the church to fight against” sodomy laws in the nations where they’re still in effect.

Paglia, of course, reiterated a firm opposition to recognizing same-sex marriages, saying, “The church must defend the truth, and the truth is that a marriage is only between a man and a woman.”

But if his statements truly reflect the church’s official position, then the Holy See now seems to be to the left of its bishops in many countries—including the United States.

Yesterday, the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops reportedly sent a missive to the White House threatening to help block an immigration reform package if it would smooth the immigration path for same-sex partners of American citizens.

The USCCB would not make the letter public, but the bishops’ spokesperson, Sister Mary Anne Walsh, told the Associated Press that inclusion of these provisions—which have been endorsed by the White House—could “jeopardizes passage of the bill.” This threat is shocking because immigration reform has been a major priority for the U.S. church, and one of the few big issues in which it has seen eye-to-eye with the Democratic Party.

The immigration reform package recently unveiled by President Barack Obama proposes treating “same-sex families as families by giving U.S. citizens and lawful permanent residents the ability to seek a visa on the basis of a permanent relationship with a same-sex partner.”

The Chilean Church has also staked out a position to the right of this new line from the Vatican in its fight against President Sebastián Piñera’s proposal to provide some protections to same-sex couples, called “Acuerdo de Vida en Pareja.” This translates more or less to a Life Partnership Agreement, and it would be a civil contract that mostly protects the property rights of same-sex couples.

During a hearing last month in the Chilean senate, Bishop Juan Ignacio González testified that even this level of protection would lead to “the destruction of human beings and …. destruction to social and family peace among men.”

Similarly, Catholic hierarchy helped kill a Costa Rican civil union law late last year, pronouncing that recognition of same-sex couples “distorts the perception of fundamental moral values and undermines the institution of marriage.”

Of course, it’s an open question whether Paglia actually is voicing church policy or whether the church intends to follow his words with actions. His call to decriminalize sodomy seems especially contradictory given that the pope gave a special blessing in December to the member of parliament from Uganda who is pushing the “Kill the Gays” bill.

We have seen some softening of the hard-line against protections for same-sex couples in countries where the church is losing the fight over same-sex marriage. In Uruguay, for example, where the Congress is expected to pass an “Equal Marriage Law” this spring, the country’s top bishop has endorsed civil unions, hoping to head off full marriage rights.

The Vatican may be similarly moderating its line as it sees how quickly it is losing the marriage debate on its home continent. It will be interesting to see how long bishops in other places where the same-sex marriage movement is gaining ground—including the United States—will hold onto their hardline position.

Latin America’s gay marriage revolution

Published by Foreign Policy Magazine.

In his second inaugural address, U.S. President Barack Obama pledged to make the United States a beacon for the world by recommitting the country to its ideals of equality. He also made history by saying those ideals demand marriage rights for same-sex couples just as they have demanded equal citizenship for women and African Americans.

But even if the Supreme Court or lawmakers soon agree with Obama’s words — “for if we are truly created equal, then surely the love we commit to one another must be equal as well” — the United States will be a latecomer to advancing marriage rights. The world’s leaders on this issue are not just from places Americans might expect — Western Europe or Canada — but many countries in our own hemisphere; places not usually known for progressivism on social issues. While Obama was undergoing his “evolution” on marriage rights, there has been a gay rights revolution that has stretched from Tierra del Fuego to the Rio Grande.

One dramatic illustration: When a broad coalition of human-rights activists brought a gay rights charter to the United Nations in 2007, the push was led not by the likes of Sweden or the Netherlands, but by Argentina, Uruguay, and Brazil. Same-sex marriage was not legal in any of these countries then, but a lot has changed in the years since. Continue reading

Chilean bishop: domestic partnerships bring “the destruction of human beings”

During a hearing earlier this week, the Catholic bishop of San Bernardo, Juan Ignacio González, declared that a proposed domestic partnership bill “brings the destruction of human beings and, although they deny it, destruction to social and family peace among men.”

Pablo Simonetti, president of Fundación Iguales, fired back through the media, calling González’s words “apocalyptic” and criticizing the bishop’s affiliation with Opus Dei.

“The majority of Catholics in Chile realize the unjust situation that sexual minorities live with,” he said. “We should clearly differentiate the opinion of the Catholic hierarchy and the Catholic people.”

American fast-food chains enforce “family values” abroad

You would think in a country where gay marriage is legal, a same-sex couple giving each other a casual peck on the lips in a McDonald’s wouldn’t be a big deal.

But a young gay couple was tossed out of a McDonald’s in Argentina yesterday after the manager spotted them kissing. And this wasn’t in an especially conservative part of the country. It was in Buenos Aires, a short walk from the official residence of President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner, who signed some of the world’s most progressive LGBT rights legislation into law.

LGBT rights activists, lead by the groups Mateadas por la Diversidad and Free Zone, responded by holding a “massive kiss-in” in front of the McDonald’s Monday evening.

American-owned fast-food joints are an infamous danger zone for same-sex couples in Argentina, where the companies apparently see themselves as “family places” anathema to same-sex couples. Argentine journalist and LGBT activist Bruno Bimbi wrote in a recent article about the dilema of PDA:

The stories in Burger Kings and McDonald’s are famous. Every gay person in Buenos Aires knows one.

McDonald’s Argentina apparently apologized to the couple via their twitter feed, @McDonalds_Ar. “We’re sorry that happened. Please send us the address of the restaurant where it happened and your contact information by direct message,” the company wrote in a tweet addressed to @Lautibenitez.

I wonder what the global policy is on this from McDonald’s Corporation. I’ve sent a press inquiry to find out—will let you know what I hear.

 

Another Chilean update: Govt throws weight behind civil union law

In remarks this morning, Cecilia Pérez, the spokeswoman for the administration of Chilean President Sebastián Piñera announced that passing a civil union law would be among his top priorities for 2013. Pérez said,

As we did last year winning approval of the Anti-discrimination Law, we are convinced that the [Acuerdo de Vida en Pareja] is another significant step for Chile to continue advancing down the path of integration and equality in order to construct a more inclusive and respectful society.

Marriage key issue in Chilean presidential debate

Same-sex marriage emerged as a major dividing line between two potential presidential nominees of the Chilean Christian Democrat party in their first televised debate.

Claudio Orrego, who just finished his second term as mayor of the city of Peñalolén, said that he supported a civil union proposal currently under debate in the Chilean Congress. But he wants marriage to remain between a man and a woman. He said,

I have firmly supported the Acuerdo de Vida en Común, the anti-discrimination law, and I think and believe, like many Chileans, that marriage as an institution is between a man and a woman and this doesn’t seem to me to be arbitrary discrimination. I think it is part of the anthropology of life.

According to La Nación, Orrego’s opponent, Senator Ximena Rincón, responded that she opposes all discrimination and “if there is love” there is no reason not to allow same-sex couples to marry.

As I wrote in this post a few weeks ago, the debate over partnership rights is currently stalemated in the legislature. This election could have a huge impact on where it goes from here.

 

Another marriage suit on its way to the Inter-American Court of Human Rights

It’s looking increasingly likely that the Inter-American Court of Human Rights is going to have to decide whether same-sex couples’ right to marry is protected by international law.

Activists in Costa Rica have announced that they’ll start the process of suing their government after a civil union bill was blocked by conservative members of the country’s legislature. Their suit would join one filed earlier this year by three couples in Chile. And the Mexican lawyer who successfully sued on behalf of three couples from Oaxaca, Alex Alí Méndez Díaz, told me earlier this month that he’s also preparing to go to the Inter-American Court to broaden the ruling to allow same-sex couples to marry across Mexico.

Though the United States does not recognize the authority of the Inter-American Court (big surprise), most Latin American countries do. If the court were to rule that same-sex couples have the right to marry under the American Convention on Human Rights, it could lead to equal marriage rights across the region. Continue reading

Uruguayan Senate postpones marriage vote til April

The Uruguayan Senate was supposed to give final ratification to the country’s Equal Marriage Bill Wednesday afternoon. But then the chamber unanimously agreed to postpone the vote until April, according to UltimaHora.com.

This is a surprise since the law overwhelmingly passed the House of Representatives earlier this month. But it sounds like opposition senators are mounting a fierce counteroffensive, accusing the ruling Frente Amplio party of “authoritarianism” for accelerating the timetable for passage.

Catholic Church divides on civil unions—theology or strategy?

The leadership of Costa Rica’s Catholic Church put out a statement this week opposing civil union legislation now being debated in the country’s legislature.

The opposition to such legislation wouldn’t be surprising, except that Catholic hierarchy in some other Latin American countries have given the OK to civil unions, even endorsing the argument that same-sex couples deserve some level of legal protection.

Is this a theological difference, or a political one?

Take this statement last month from Uruguayan Bishop Jaime Fuentes, who handles family issues for the church hierarchy in his country. Continue reading

Brazilian state of São Paulo to legalize same-sex marriage

Within 60 days, same-sex couples in Brazil’s São Paulo state will be able to legally marry simply by going to a notary. That’s thanks to a new rule issued yesterday by the state judiciary.

The legal status of same-sex unions in Brazil has been a little confusing. The country’s top court recently ruled that same-sex couples have the same domestic partnership rights as heterosexual couples. Couples that have registered their domestic partnerships have since successfully gone to court to “convert” these unions into marriages.

The new rule means same-sex couples can skip the court phase in order to marry. It is also another major boost for the same-sex marriage movement in Latin America. Forty-one million people live in São Paulo state, making it the most populous state in the largest country in Latin America. It also has a population several times larger than Uruguay, which is on the cusp of legalizing same-sex marriage.