Lithuanian bishops call for scrapping of same-sex partnership bill

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By Andrius Sytas

VILNIUS (Reuters) - Lithuanian bishops have called on politicians to vote down proposed same-sex partnership legislation, quoting words used by Pope Francis to argue that civil unions distort the concept of marriage and family.

Lithuania's parliament last month voted to accept for further debate a draft bill legalizing same-sex civil partnerships, after voting down a similar bill in May 2021.

In a pastoral letter to the faithful, the Lithuanian Bishops Conference -- a body which unites the country's bishops -- quoted a 2016 treatise by Pope Francis which states "de facto unions or unions of the same sex cannot simply be equated with marriage".

"The draft law on civil unions essentially proposes what Pope Francis urges us not to do - to equate de facto unions and same-sex unions with marriage. We cannot support this bill, which distorts and devalues the concepts of marriage and the family," the bishops wrote.

The bishops said civil partnership could be "a Trojan Horse" leading to civil marriage.

The letter did not touch on Pope Francis' 2020 declaration that gays should be protected by civil union laws.

An April 2021 an opinion poll found 70% of adult Lithuanians oppose same-sex partnerships.

Three quarters of Lithuania's 2.8 million population identify as Roman Catholics, and several parliamentarians called homosexuality a "sin" during the debate before the vote on taking the bill up for further readings.

In a nod to critics, the same-sex bill in the parliament no longer defines partnerships as an "emotional connection" or allows partners to assume a common surname.

"The law could better defend human dignity, but support was needed and this (wording) was the lowest threshold possible," said Gabrielius Landsbergis, head of the ruling Homeland Union party.

Lithuanian bishops have thrown their weight behind an alternative bill, also under consideration in the parliament, that would allow a group of people to declare a "close connection" and be given additional rights.

(Reporting by Andrius Sytas in Vilnius; Editing by Christina Fincher)

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