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Catching Up On LGBT Rights: Italy One Vote Closer to Same-Sex Marriage

Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi promised a bill on same-sex marriage when he came into office in 2014. Yet only one year later, Italy was found to be violating human rights  by the ECHR  for failing to offer sufficient legal protection to same sex-couples. Whilst European countries, such as Ireland and Greece, have recognized same-sex unions, Italy lags behind. However, the introduction of the “Cirinnà” bill might be a sign that change is to come. Following a troubled voting process in the Senate, marked by automatically generated amendments and “kangaroo” motions, the bill passed on 25th of February. Before the Deputies gave the final word, it seems appropriate to review what the bill currently means for the Italian Lesbian Gay Bisexual and Transgender (LGBT) community. Is Italy finally catching up?

Out of the six founding nations of the European Union, Italy is, today, the only member that does not recognize same-sex marriage in any form. Catholic influences have often hampered previous efforts at achieving equal rights and a first bill proposed in 2014 was drowned in amendments. The lack of institutional support towards equality does not seem to reflect public opinion, as many underline for example how the Italian Constitution does not distinguish between sexes when it comes to marriage. However, institutions have sometimes taken action to recognize same-sex unions as much as the current laws allow. This is the case of mayors in selected cities – Milan, Rome, Naples and Bologna among them – who decided to register in their civil union registries same-sex marriages that were carried out abroad.

These provisions, however, are entirely symbolic and do not imply the recognition of equal rights for same-sex couples. The Cirinnà bill – named after its author, Democratic Party (PD) Senator Monica Cirinnà – was set up to fill this void and to afford the same rights to civil marriage currently provided for heterosexual couples, which includes, amongst other things, the right to adoption. The bill’s progress through the Senate was marked by a series of obstacles. First of all, most right-wing parties, most prominently the Northern League, tried to ostracize the voting process by proposing thousands of amendments which were automatically generated and often made little to no sense. When the ruling Democratic Party offered to vote on the so-called “Super Kangaroo” motion to squash the amendments, the Five Star Movement (M5S) party denied support, insisting instead on voting on all of the amendments for the sake of transparency. Without the support of the M5S, it was unlikely that the bill would pass as was originally intended. This led the Democratic Party to seek a compromise with New Center-Right (NCD) to obtain the necessary numbers. To achieve this deal a number of sacrifices had to be made, with stepchild adoption scrapped from the text in order to win the vote. The bill was eventually approved, however, with an overwhelming majority of 173 against 71.

Prime Minister Matteo Renzi addressing the Senate. Photo by Palazzo Chigi, Flickr.
Prime Minister Matteo Renzi addressing the Senate. Photo by Palazzo Chigi, Flickr.

The approved bill includes some major provisions which seem to suggest same-sex couples will finally be allowed some of the basic rights that they have long been advocating for. This includes provisions such as, the right to assist a partner in the event of their hospitalization or incarceration and the ability to delegate to the partner decisions concerning organ donation and funeral arrangements. In addition, the bill recognizes benefits related to inheritance, pensions and severance pay. No mandatory separation period is required in case of divorce and if partners decide to end their cohabitation, a judge will establish the amount of support payments owed.

Still, the opinions of LGBT organizations in Italy are divided between those hailing this bill as an achievement and those who deem it insufficient. Such a conclusion is the result of the lack of adoption rights afforded, which, prior to the bill’s amendment, included the possibility for both partners to adopt the others’ biological children. Another scrapped provision, which many saw as an enforcement of LGBT stereotypes of promiscuity, is the “obbligo di fedeltà”, a faithfulness requirement that was deemed too similar to marriage vows. For the conservatives, still clinging to the concept of “traditional marriage between man and woman”, the goal was to distinguish the rights provided in this bill from the rights afforded by marriage, eliminating any references to marriage from the text. The debate on adoption sparked another discussion on surrogate motherhood, which the NCD would like to be made punishable as a “universal crime”. Surrogate motherhood, though, was not part of the Cirinnà bill and is still not legal in Italy. In fact, Italian media were swept by the news of Nichi Vendola, former governor of Puglia and current leader of left wing Ecology and Freedom (SEL), having a child with his partner through a surrogate mother from the USA.

Crowd in Naples during the #svegliatitalia (wake up, Italy) demonstration of February 23rd. Photo by Stefano Carotenuto, Flickr.
Crowd in Naples during the #svegliatitalia (wake up, Italy) demonstration of February 23rd. Photo by Stefano Carotenuto, Flickr.

The Senate was seen as the biggest obstacle to the bill, which leaves the Deputies vote as a mere formality. In the meanwhile, Italian courts seem to be filling in, with recent news of Rome’s tribunal for minors approving, under the law for special adoption cases, the adoption by a lesbian couple of each other’s biological children. This bill might not necessarily imply that the country is catching up. Nonetheless, it certainly marks a small but important step forward for a conservative and Catholic-influenced Italy. The public discussion on the issue shows that Italians are ready for change and that institutions are beginning to reflect their citizens’ opinions. With the M5S calling for a referendum on adoption and PD leader Matteo Renzi suggesting that it may be implemented in the future, it seems that this bill will hopefully pave the way for further achievements.

Alessandra Cognetta

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