Italy ‘Civil Unions’ Debate: Civil Unions Debate

Published: January 28, 2016

Italy ‘Civil Unions’ Debate: Civil Unions Debate, When the Italian government attempted to introduce same-sex unions in 2007, local documentary maker Gustav Hofer was on hand to film the political effort behind the bill as it stuttered and died in the face of stiff Catholic opposition.

Now, nine years later, as the Italian Senate prepares to debate a new bill on Thursday, he is not holding his breath.

Years of pressure by bishops on Italian politicians to oppose same-sex marriage, or even civil unions, has meant Italy is the last country in Western Europe without some form of legislation on the books. That is a blow to people such as Hofer, a 39-year-old gay man who has been waiting years for the chance to tie the knot with his partner.

“Keeping gay unions illegal in Italy has a symbolic value for the church — it’s the Vatican’s last stronghold,” he said.

But the close-knit relationship between the Vatican and Parliament unraveled somewhat in 2013 with the election of Pope Francis, who has shown disdain for the Italian church’s habit of influencing Italian politics and warned bishops in a speech in Florence in November not to be “obsessed by power.”

“Francis has a critical opinion of the old guard in the Italian church who were close to governments,” said Iacopo Scaramuzzi, a Vatican expert with the Italian news service ASKA.

Francis has even halted the tradition of Italian government ministers coming out to meet the pope at the Rome airport whenever he flies in or out of Italy, said Scaramuzzi.

Meanwhile, young, reform-minded Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi has made civil union legislation a centerpiece of his legislative program, spurred in part by pressure from the European Court of Human Rights.

Judging by Italy’s uneasy relationship with Catholic tenets today, it would appear the country is ready to turn its back on the concept that marriage must be between a man and a woman. Church attendance is down, fewer Italians are getting married and the country’s traditional large families are a thing of the past.

But same-sex unions require a law change and many Italian lawmakers continue to pay lip service to the Vatican, as former Prime Minister Romano Prodi discovered when his 2007 civil unions bill sank, thanks to Catholic opposition within his short-lived center-left coalition.

Church leaders, including then-Vatican Secretary of State Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, openly backed a massive Family Day rally in Rome in 2007 in defense of the heterosexual family.

Prodi was replaced by Silvio Berlusconi, who critics believe shared the Vatican’s views on a range of issues to keep bishops from questioning his womanizing.

Last year, under Francis, church officials noticeably stayed away from a Family Day rally and hard-line Catholic politicians became less vocal, suggesting Renzi might have a clear run at passing same-sex union legislation.

Still, as the date to debate the latest bill neared, the church stirred. Cardinal Angelo Bagnasco, the head of the Italian bishops conference, said this month that this year’s Family Day rally was “absolutely necessary.” The rally is planned for Saturday.

Italians may show ambivalence toward same-sex unions, but bishops and Catholic politicians have been buoyed by polls showing that only 15% support adoptions by gay and lesbian parents.


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