If you are a homosexual man hoping to marry your boyfriend on the shores of Tuscany, in the romantic surroundings of Venice, or in the immortal Rome, I’m afraid you will have to change your plans. In Italy, same-sex marriages are not yet recognised by law. Over the past few weeks, the Italian Parliament has been discussing a new bill, promoted by Democratic Party Senator Monica Cirinnà, to make same-sex marriages legal. The bill previously garnered a lot of criticism in 2013, when Mrs. Cirinnà first proposed it. After being re-written five times, the bill is now being discussed in the two chambers of the Parliament.
An important step towards the legalisation of gay marriage was taken last July, when the European Union accused Italy of “violating human rights by failing to offer enough legal protection to same-sex couples”. The European Court for Human Rights (ECHR) said that the country was violating Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights: the right to respect for private and family life. As it turns out, Italy is the only western European country where homosexual couples are given no civil recognition.
The first step the bill proposes is equal rights for homosexual couples, referred to as “specific social formations”. Thanks to this bill, marriages underwritten by a state official and two witnesses will be recognised by the State under the label “civil unions”. These couples will be given the right to health assistance, Italian citizenship – in case one of the two people is not an Italian citizen yet -, union or separation of goods, divorce, mutual surname, succession and reversibility of the retirement. Along with the right for two people of the same sex to marry, the law also states requirements such as moral and material assistance as well as cohabitation. In the first draft, the couples were also obligated to be loyal, but on February 25th that article of was deleted by the senators.
Another article of the bill focuses on what is known to be the Stepchild Adoption, which is the adoption of the partner’s biological child – legal for heterosexual couples as of 1983 in Italy. This particular area of the bill is the part most people are against. Some Italians fear that children who grow up in homosexual families may end up having identity issues, identifying as gay themselves or talking to their classmates about homosexual couples. They are against the idea of letting people think about sexuality and gender because, as they say, they may end up confused. Many are also afraid that children who grow up with two fathers or two mothers will not have the same traditional childhood experience as other kids. They say they will not have the love of both a mother and father, which are both “scientifically proved to be needed by the children”. In other words, they believe that every child needs both a father and a mother to be considered “normal”.
The majority of those who are opposing the bill are Catholic families and politicians. In their perpective, what is perceived to be a “traditional family” – which comes from the religious tradition of Jesus Christ, Saint Mary and Saint Joseph – is the only family that has the right to exist. On January 30th, those against the law gathered in Rome for a manifestation called Family Day. Authorities said there were two million people, but it was later confirmed that there were no more than 300,000. Families, children, priests and young people protested the bill, claiming that the only union that has the right to exist is the heterosexual one.
Many right-wing politicians say that they will vote against the law unless the article on adoption is deleted. They fear that Italy is becoming too liberal and is going against its cultural – and religious – values. However, on Thursday, February 25th, a huge majority backed the bill in the Italian Senate, making a step towards the recognition of gay rights.
“It is a day to remember,” said Prime Minister Matteo Renzi. “Today, love wins.” However, Monica Cirinnà still criticised her fellow senators because the bill was changed and the article on Stepchild Adoption was deleted. Interior Minister Angelino Alfano was very happy that the article was deleted: “Italy is doing a great job with stopping what is not natural at all, like two people of the same sex having kids. We avoided a revolution that goes against nature, and I believe this is a great result for the country.”
What hindered the bill’s progression in the parliamentary process was the public’s opinion, which was generally misinformed. Many Italians had no idea what Stepchild Adoption was, but were still against it. They believed that it meant adopting other couples’ children, making motherhood surrogacy legal, or even stealing children born from previous marriages without consent. In truth, the only thing the article did was recognise families that already exist now. It gave equal rights to the 100,000 children of gay couples who currently study, play and live in Italy. It meant letting them live a normal family life like every single one of their friends and classmates. It meant finally recognising that their families were just like any other. It meant respecting them.
Another article that was deleted was the one that obligated same-sex couples to stay loyal to one another. Some say that it was deleted to make civil unions seem even more different from heterosexual marriages than they already are. There is a huge wall of tradition that still needs to be taken down. There is a barrier that stops gay marriages from being accepted; does not let their children be recognised by law; prevents gay teenagers from feeling safe when coming out; and stops discussion of gender and sexual orientation in schools and other places. There is a wall that often leads gay people to think they are not worthy of a dignified life, of kissing their partner in the streets, of talking about whom they are dating, or of just being themselves. Yes, the bill passed in the Senate, but to say that LGBTQ+ people are accepted in Italy would be an exaggeration. This is the first step, but it’s not enough to create a safe society where homophobia is in the past.