By NICOLE WINFIELD Associated Press

ROME (AP) — Pope Francis endorsed gay civil unions for the first time as pontiff while being interviewed for a feature-length documentary that has premiered at the Rome Film Festival.

The papal thumbs-up came midway through "Francesco," which delves into the environment, poverty, migration, racial and income inequality and other issues Francis cares about most.

In the documentary, the pope says: "Homosexual people have the right to be in a family. They are children of God." Francis says a civil union law is needed because "that way they are legally covered."

While serving as archbishop of Buenos Aires, Francis endorsed civil unions for gay couples as an alternative to same-sex marriages.