No Liberal Hero Here: Pope May Have Helped Derail Marriage Equality In Slovenia

This may come as surprise to some who view Francis as a progressive force within the church.

Pope Francis’ reputation for being relatively liberal coupled with the fact that marriage equality is the law of the land in the United States has left many Americans hoping that the Roman Catholic Church is prepared to soften its stance on same-sex unions. But if recent events in Slovenia are any indication, the church has yet to change its mind.

Back in March, Slovenian lawmakers passed a marriage-equality law. It also allowed same-sex couples to adopt children. Unfortunately that did not sit well with some of the conservative groups in that predominantly Catholic country of just over two million people, and they managed to collect tens of thousands of signatures as well as convince the courts there to require that this matter be put to a public vote.

Ahead of that vote, Pope Francis addressed Slovenian pilgrims gathered at the Vatican in mid-December. While he did not specifically tell them to oppose marriage equality, his words left little room for interpretation.

“May you carry my gratitude to the Church of Slovenia for its efforts in favor of family,” Francis said. “I want to encourage all Slovenians, particularly those with public responsibilities, to preserve family as a basic cell of society.”

This may come as surprise to some who view Francis as a progressive force within the church. After all, he has said he has gay friends and asked “Who am I to judge?” when it comes to gay priests. But when you really think about it, do those comments actually offer much support to LGBT people?  

Ultimately, 63 percent of Slovenian voters rejected the idea that marriage should be between two consenting adults regardless of gender. Polls had suggested that the country was pretty evenly split on this issue, but CNN reported that just 36 percent of eligible voters cast ballots. The news agency also reported that the equality opposition groups had the backing of the Catholic Church.

This development hasn’t received much attention in the United States. The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops has yet to comment publicly on the vote in Slovenia, but its website makes clear that it still does not support marriage equality.  

The takeaway here is that much work remains to be done on marriage equality despite the tremendous gains made in the United States. Don’t expect conservative elements, like the Catholic Church, to simply give up – regardless of what they may say or do as part of some public relations campaigns.