WARSAW: Polish LGBT activists and opposition politicians said they were hopeful that there would be a new opening to discuss gay rights in Poland after Pope Francis said same-sex couples should be protected by civil union laws.
LGBT rights have been a flashpoint in Poland over the last two years, with politicians tied to the ruling nationalist Law and Justice (PiS) party and senior members of the Catholic Church arguing against what they term "LGBT ideology".
"This argument that even the pope is for civil partnerships is very needed and we will definitely use it in our fight for civil unions and same-sex marriage," said activist Bartosz Staszewski.
The pope made his comments in a documentary "Francesco" by Oscar-nominated director Evgeny Afineevsky, released on Wednesday.
"Homosexual people have a right to be in a family. They are children of God and have a right to a family. Nobody should be thrown out or be made miserable over it," the pope said.
"What we have to create is a civil union law. That way they are legally covered," he said.
PiS politicians, who are closely tied to the Polish Catholic Church, have argued that the family unit is made up of a man, a woman and their children, while same-sex marriage and civil partnerships are banned in Poland.
"We see these words as a breakthrough of sorts," said Katarzyna Remin, 62, an activist with the Campaign Against Homophobia organisation.
"The families formed by homosexual people are families ... and people who have same-sex partnerships and more broadly LGBT people have the right to a family."
A spokesman for Poland's Conference of Bishops said in a statement: "We are not able to decipher the context of these words, which could be very significant, in order to understand them correctly," adding the pope's words were not part of Church doctrine.
Poland's Catholic Church often takes a stronger stance than the Vatican on social issues. The pope's words could put more pressure on the Polish Catholic Church to be more accepting of the LGBT community and its rights, activists said.
"Maybe it's high time people who are part of the same church began listening to their highest hierarchy, the first Bishop of Rome ... these are two different churches," said Klaudia Jachira, an opposition member of parliament tied to the Civic Coalition grouping.
But Maria Kurowska, a lawmaker from the United Poland party, a socially conservative group allied with PiS, said: "I don't think this will have any effect ... the pope hasn't changed the Church's teachings, this has been a problem for the last 2,000 years."
Two PiS spokesmen did not reply to requests for comment.
In Hungary, where same-sex partnerships have been legal for years, Prime Minister Viktor Orban's chief of staff Gergely Gulyas said he was glad the pope's statement did not go further.
"Luckily the pope did not get as far as thinking that marriage would also be possible," Gulyas said.
(Reporting by Joanna Plucinska and Kuba Stezycki, Additional reporting by Alicja Ptak and Marcin Goclowski in WARSAW, Krisztina Than in BUDAPEST; Editing by Janet Lawrence)