Italy Approves Same-Sex Civil Unions, But Critics Still Not Satisfied

The Trevi fountain in Rome (Getty Images)
The Trevi fountain in Rome (Getty Images)

But critics say the bill, which leaves out adoption, does not go far enough

For same-sex couples, Italy was long the outlier in western Europe. Gay-pride parades, replete with bare-chested men dancing on floats, were tolerated, as were expressions of affection between couples (at least in big cities). But the relationships of gay men and lesbians were not recognised by law. Until now. On May 11th the Italian parliament approved a law recognising same-sex civil unions, with 372 voting in favour, 51 against and 99 abstaining. The Trevi fountain in Rome (pictured) was lit up with the colours of the rainbow as campaigners popped champagne to celebrate.

The new law grants same-sex couples many of the same rights as married heterosexual couples. Partners in a civil union can apply for public housing as couples. (The law also makes this right available to unmarried heterosexual couples.) They can also inherit their partners’ pensions. Property inheritance rules will be the same as for married couples. For gay couples, Italy has finally ceased to be a glaring exception to the rest of Europe.

The bill, which was championed by Matteo Renzi, Italy’s prime minister, has been a long time in the making. Gay-rights activists have been pushing for same-sex marriage in Italy for three decades; bills have been proposed in the past but never adopted. Last year the European Court of Human Rights ruled that by not recognising same-sex unions Italy violated the right to respect for private and family life.

The change in the law reflects changing attitudes towards homosexuality, even in Roman Catholic countries. Last year Ireland, where around 80% of the population say they are Catholics, approved same-sex marriage in a popular referendum.

Polls show that most Italians still oppose same-sex marriage. But they are friendlier towards civil unions: support ranges from about half to two-thirds, depending on the survey. Pope Francis has stuck with the official doctrine that same-sex unions cannot be considered the same as heterosexual marriages, but he has used more conciliatory language than his predecessors and has met prominent gay figures such as Tim Cook, the CEO of Apple.

Gay Italians are delighted with the change. Fabrizio Meris, a writer, says that 20 years ago the idea of same-sex marriage would have seemed impossible in Italy. The new law should give hope to many gay youngsters.

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SOURCE: The Economist

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