More than 100 Catholic priests in Germany are defying the Vatican by blessing the unions of gay and lesbian couples.

The Vatican in March said that priests cannot bless same-sex unions. Pope Francis, who has said that gay couples have a right to a family, approved the ban.

The Vatican's ban sparked the Love Wins movement in Germany. Priests in around 100 Catholic churches in Germany are offering blessings to same-sex couples, the BBC reported.

“Couples who take part should receive the blessing that God wants to give them – without any secrecy,” the group said in an earlier statement.

Love Wins described the Church's ban as “a slap in the face for people around the world.”

Andreas Helfrich, who received a blessing with his partner, told Reuters that it was very important to him.

“It's very important to me,” Helfrich said. “I was brought up as a Catholic. I live as a Catholic and I also worked as a Catholic. For me, heaven opened up again today because I had felt a bit excluded. And I am grateful that the possibility exists and that we were able to receive God's blessing.”

An overwhelming number of Germans (86%) support same-sex relationships, according to the Pew Research Center.

While gay and lesbian couples could not marry in Germany until 2017 – roughly two years after gay couples started marrying in all 50 states in the United States – Germany began recognizing the unions of same-sex couples in 2001, granting them a number of rights enjoyed by married opposite-sex couples.