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23rd May 2019

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Italy changes EU gay rights map

  • Italy backs same-sex unions (Photo: Federico Moroni)

Italy’s decision to allow same-sex unions has deleted the last zone of intolerance against homosexuality from western Europe.

MPs in Rome on Wednesday (11 May) voted by 372 to 51 with 99 abstentions to pass a bill that gives gay couples most of the same rights as straight ones.

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  • Ilga-Europe map (Photo: Ilga-Europe)

Gay couples will now be able to take each other’s names, inherit their partner’s estate and pension and claim alimony. They will also have full access to their partners in hospitals and prisons and the right to apply for social housing.

They will not be able to automatically adopt their partner’s biological children, but judges can grant adoption on a case by case basis.

The result was greeted by applause in parliament and by people waving rainbow flags, a symbol of the gay rights movement, at Rome’s Trevi fountain.

“The wall erected mostly by the Vatican against civil rights in this country has fallen, so it is a historically and politically important moment,” Franco Grillini, the head of Italian NGO Arcigay, told press.

Arcigay’s Gabriele Piazzoni said: “The glass is half full”.

“The text contains the recognition and protection many gays and lesbians have been waiting for all their lives ... [but] everything this law has failed to guarantee leaves a bitter taste”.

The change ends Italy’s status as the only large, western democracy that had not recognised same-sex unions.

From red to green

Its old status was on show in a map published earlier this week by Ilga-Europe, a Brussels-based NGO, that showed Italy as the only “red” country among the older EU states.

The red colour meant that it fell below Ilga-Europe’s 25 percent benchmark in terms of legal protection for lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans and intersex (LGBTI) people.

The only other red EU states were Poland, Latvia and Lithuania. Russia (7%) and Turkey (7%) were the least liberal.

Malta - a staunchly Roman Catholic country - got the top mark on 88 percent. That was reflected on Ilga-Europe’s map by the colour green. France, Germany, Spain and the UK were also green.

Germany, this week, became greener when it annulled old convictions of men who had been persecuted under anti-gay laws that were in force between 1946 and 1969.

Commenting on the state of affairs, Evelyn Paradis, Ilga-Europe’s director, said in Copenhagen on Tuesday: “Contrary to popular belief, LGBTI equality is far from being a done deal in Europe”.

The NGO’s Joyce Hamilton said “regression is all too possible” due to “those voices who are trying to undermine the equality gains made by the LGBTI movement.”

In Italy, conservative voices included the Roman Catholic church, the New Centre Right party in the ruling coalition, individual ministers and several opposition parties.

'Attack on the family'

Nunzio Galantino, a Vatican spokesman, told Vatican radio after the vote that government policy should enshrine the “importance of the family consisting of father, mother and children.”

Michele Pennisi, an archbishop in Sicily, told the La Repubblica daily: “They [MPs] are not taking into account that a large part of the country does not want this law. I think this way of acting is a form of creeping fascism”.

Politicians from the far-right Northern League party said they want a referendum to repeal the bill. The party’s Massimiliano Fedriga called the law "a direct attack on the family".

But opposition was less fierce than 10 years ago, when mass protests derailed a similar bill put forward by the then PM Romano Prodi and which contributed to his fall from power.

The current PM, 41 year-old Matteo Renzi, had also tied his fate to the reform by calling a vote of confidence on the bill prior to its adoption. He won the confidence vote, also on Wednesday, by 369 to 193.

"Today is a day of celebration in which Italy has taken a step forward”, he told Italian radio.

He said on Facebook prior to the vote: “We are writing another important page of the Italy we want ... It was no longer acceptable to have any more delays after years of failed attempts.”

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