Italy is to take a step towards LGBT equality as it was announced that legislation legalising civil unions for same-sex couples is expected to be passed in the Chamber of Deputies. Considering the historical influence of the Catholic Church in Italian politics we have to commend the success of LGBT activists in getting this measure into the Italian political discourse, however we shouldn’t kid ourselves that this is anything other than piecemeal reform. Whilst we commend the struggle of our comrades in Italy, there are some parts of this law that show that equality is still a long way off.
The Democratic Party of Matteo Renzi was founded in 2007 as a social democratic force to rival the centre-right coalition Forza Italia. Despite being an explicitly centrist party, Renzi has shifted the party further to Right and as a result the policies of the party have become decidedly less bold. This measure, if passed, will be another example of this. Renzi has decided to push civil unions because according to a collection of polls the measure is overwhelming popular. In one poll for the newspaper Le Repubblica, civil unions for same-sex couples had the support of 69% of respondents versus only 29% who stated their opposition to the measure.
So why is this purely political expedience? The same poll also showed that 56% of respondents supported same-sex marriage versus only 40% who opposed marriage equality. The fact that he didn’t push for marriage equality is illustrative of political posturing and that he didn’t want to alienate more socially conservative voters. If Renzi was acting out of principle he would have called for the legalisation of same-sex marriage, and couched it in both his ‘moral convictions’ and the fact that he is listening to the Italian people.
Not only is did Renzi not push for marriage equality, but this civil unions bill contains a number of provisions that prove that civil unions are not equal in the eyes of the law. Although the bill will allow gay couples to legally take each other’s names and will to inherit each other’s pension rights. However, the bill doesn’t automatically give the right to adopt a partner’s child in the event of the parent’s death. So if you were in a same-sex relationship and had raised a child with your partner from birth, you would not be able to automatically adopt that child in the event of your partner’s death. This provision alone illustrates that civil unions in Italy are clearly not the same as marriages.
As I said any progress is welcome and I commend the campaigning efforts of activists on the ground in Italy. My frustration is levelled at the Italian government. Ministers have sent out press releases and social media comments talking about how it’s about time that Italy makes progress, however if they held an actual principle on this issue they would have pushed for equal marriage. Indeed even if they were only acting out of political expedience they should have pushed for marriage equality, but they did not. This is a step forward but the fight goes on because politicians lack the courage to stand by their principles.