GRAND RAPIDS TOWNSHIP, Mich. (WOOD) — A Kent County judge who is gay says Pope Francis was brave to voice support for same-sex civil unions.

The documentary “Francesco,” which details the pope’s life, was released at the Rome Film Festival Wednesday. In it, the pope spoke out in support of same-sex civil unions, making him the first pontiff to do so. 

“Homosexuals have a right to be part of the family,” Pope Francis said. “They’re children of God and have a right to a family. Nobody should be thrown out, or be made miserable because of it.”

Francis went on to say he believes there should be civil union laws in place to protect them.

“It took such courage for him to say this as the leader of the Catholic Church,” 63rd District Court Judge Sara Smolenski told News 8 Thursday.

Last year, Smolenski sat down with News 8’s Barton Dieters after she was denied communion at her East Grand Rapids church because she is married to a woman. Smolenski had been a member of the church for more than six decades.

“God made me who I am. I’m proud of that and my religious upbringing in the Catholic Church has never made me feel that I’m an outcast until I get this call that says you’re not a part of it,” Smolenski said.

She said she hopes the pope’s words will light a brighter future for others who have also felt shunned by a place they considered home. She added she is hopeful it will spark conversations that lead to lasting change. 

“By excluding people, you miss a lot and you act counter to what the Catholic faith is all about, or any religious background,” she said. “I just hope and pray that his words are heard and considered by those that struggle with it.”