Italy at a standstill on marriage equality

Luca Arfini / University of Political Science of Pavia | 17-Oct-2016
2015 was a momentous year for gay rights. In May Ireland voted Yes to the referendum for the approval of homosexual marriage and the following month gay marriage was legalised in all 50 states of the US. In December, a law for same-sex marriage was passed in Greece. It is now possible to have a same-sex marriage in 14 European countries. But unfortunately in Italy, we remain at a standstill.
2015 was a momentous year for gay rights. In May Ireland voted Yes to the referendum for the approval of homosexual marriage and the following month gay marriage was legalised in all 50 states of the US. In December, a law for same-sex marriage was passed in Greece.

It is now possible to have a same-sex marriage in 14 European countries.

But unfortunately in Italy, we remain at a standstill.

There is an ongoing argument in the Italian parliament for the approval of the Cirinnà bill, named after the bill's sponsor senator Monica Cirinnà of prime minister Mario Renzi's centre-left Democratic Party.

The biggest obstacle to the bill, which would allow civil unions for gay people, surrounds the issue of adoption and whether a parent's new partner should be able to legally adopt a child the parent had with a previous partner.

This issue is of concern to the Catholic right which opposes change to its traditional view of the family.

Indeed, there is still much discrimination in Italy and it is not unknown for gay couples to be subjected to discrimination on the streets.

In schools, too, discrimination remains a major issue. Despite some improvements in recent years, discrimination is nonetheless alive and well and most school teachers seem indifferent to the issue.

For me, the most difficult challenge I faced as a gay man in Italy was at school.

School is where young people discover and struggle for the construction of their identity especially around the question of their sexual orientation.

For me, it was hard feeling different without being able to share it with anyone. You tend to isolate yourself from the others to hide your personality.

The issues related to sexual orientation are actually linked with the notion of gender. The understanding of gender relations must be seen in the context of almost compulsory heterosexuality, in which the normal notions of masculinity and femininity are reinforced.

Those who do not conform themselves to this type of behaviour are labelled as different and are typically ostracised.

Young gay people do not have very many role models that can help them to understand what they are. During my time in school, there were no programmes to help with my experiences of growing up gay.

Most teachers do not see it as their duty, and in general, the schools are not interested in organising events about sexual orientation.

It is vital at that age to have someone to talk to, to know that you are not alone, and to feel part of a community. Awareness of gay people would also increase tolerance by heterosexual students helping to break stereotypes.

A shameful episode happened to a gay student in an Italian Catholic school in a city near Milan last September.

He was separated from the other students due to his sexual orientation. The headmaster decided to isolate him from his peers after an image of him and another guy kissing each other was posted on a social network.

He was considered as a dangerous influence on the rest of the class.

I came out to my parents when I was 16. Firstly they were really shocked, but with time, they learned to understand and accept me. They have never stopped loving me regardless of my orientation.

I found it more difficult coming out to my friends. Indeed, the wall of silence built by the teachers and the society around the issue makes you feel depressed and sad. You do not know any way to get out of this situation, how to be 'normal' as others are perceived to be.

A general thought about homosexuality in Italy is that it is fine as long as you do not show or say it.

People are formally tolerant of homosexuals; however, some surveys show that 40 per cent of the population is against the recognition of civil rights for gay couples. Everything is fine as long as it is hidden.

Problems begin when people come out as gay or show their love in public as a heterosexual couple might typically do.

One recent survey found that only 20 per cent of Italian gay people would feel comfortable coming out to their parents. There is a general fear of not being accepted; this is also due to the conservative mentality of most of Italians, which is influenced by the traditional Catholic view of family values.

Even if only 40 per cent of the Italian population agrees with the notion of gay marriage, society appears to be fine with the recognition of civil unions.

Also Pope Francis, who made many changes in the traditional Catholic view, appears more tolerant towards gay people.

The first bill for the legalisation of civil unions was presented by the lawyer Alma Agata Cappiello in 1988, but it was never timetabled.

The European Parliament has asked the Italian government several times to enact a law concerning civil rights for gay people. Despite having been sanctioned by the European Court of Human Rights, Italy has so far not been able to arrive at a legislative solution.

Being gay in Italy remains a challenge. The situation might not be as bad as 20 years ago and some progress has certainly been made but there is still much work left for us in Italy to reach the same level of equality as other European countries.

I believe the biggest obstacle is between Italian politicians who seem more concerned with public support than equality.

Italy cannot wait anymore to give its consent to a civil union because there is no good reason to forbid the right to stay together to two adult people that are in love with each other.

We should follow the Irish example, where two gay people can be truly themselves, even if it is a country, such as Italy, in which the Catholic church has still a strong influence.

In Trinity College, I have found a very open environment. In fact, it is not uncommon to meet a gay couple holding hands and no-one is shocked if a male is seen wearing female dresses.

So I want to end with the hashtag that is widespread in Italy in these days, #wakeupItaly.

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