Despite Vatican Opposition, Italy Passes Civil Unions Bill for Lesbian and Gay Couples
In what is being referred to as a rejection of Vatican influence into Italian politics, the Italian Parliament voted in a civil unions bill this week, becoming the final nation in the 28-member European Union to do so.
Prime Minister Matteo Renzi had called a confidence vote, as a way to prevent further delays and amendments, and he received a victory of 369-193. A later vote on the actual bill in the lower house of Parliament resulted in a tally of 372-51, with 99 abstentions, paving the way for civil unions to become the law of the land. The Senate had already approved the bill in February.
In their news report of the decisive vote, The New York Times stated:
“It was a historic occasion for a nation that is still dominated by the Roman Catholic Church, which opposed the measure, and where traditional family norms are still strong.”
CNN noted in their reporting:
“Previous attempts to legalize gay unions had been stymied and fiercely contested by conservatives and the Roman Catholic church, which holds significant sway in the nation.”
Despite the historic victory, the bill is not an ideal law, say some Italian LGBT leaders. One leader spoke to the New York Times, noting the waning of church influence, buy also dissatisfaction with the bill:
” ‘The wall erected mostly by the Vatican against civil rights in this country has fallen, so it is a historically and politically important moment,’ said Franco Grillini, the honorary president of Arcigay, and advocacy group, and a gay rights advocate. At the same time, same-sex couples in Italy wanted marriage equality, a right held by their counterparts in the United States and many Western European countries, and he said that struggle would continue.
“It has been 30 years since lawmakers first proposed giving legal recognition to civil unions in Italy. The Vatican under Pope Francis, while expressing more liberal positions on some social issues, has kept us steadfast opposition to legal recognitions of same-sex couples, influencing some Italian lawmakers.”
The San Diego Gay & Lesbian News provided a succinct summary of the bill’s negatives and positives:
- Does not go as far as civil union laws elsewhere in Europe, the US and Canada, critics say
- Clause that would have enabled gay people to adopt a partner’s biological children was dropped
- No blanket ban on adoption, but family judges will decide on a case-by-case basis
- Requirement for gay couples to pledge loyalty was dropped – to make civil union less like marriage
- Gay couples get right to take each other’s names and receive deceased partner’s pension
Bishop Nunzio Galantino, the head of the Italian Bishops’ Conference, called the Prime Minister’s confidence vote “a loss for everyone,” according to Reuters. EUobserver reported that after the passage of the bill, Galantino said to Vatican Radio that the law should stress the “importance of the family consisting of father, mother and children.”
The work to defend and expand the law will continue. Already right-wing Italian politicians, led by former Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi’s Forza Italia party, are promising to call for a referendum to nullify the law.
In the meantime, we rejoice with the Italians for preserving family and honoring Catholic principles of human dignity by extending civil union rights to lesbian and gay families. We pray that they will soon expand those rights to include marriage and adoption so that all Italian families will be respected and protected equally.
–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry
Religion News: “Italy OKs gay civil unions despite strong church opposition”
Slate.com: “At Last, Italy Defies Catholic Church and Legalizes Same-Sex Civil Unions”
I’m not convinced that this bill was in fact opposed by “the Vatican”, as has been widely reported. In fact, the main opposition was led by a few lay organizations and right wing Catholic politicians, and it is true that some Italian bishops joined and encouraged this lay opposition- but many others chose to remain silent. I’m not aware of any intervention at all by “the Vatican”. Some reports have stated that this was a deliberate decision, that conscious of the popular support for the bill, influential circles in the Vatican were anxious not to be associated with the extremist rhetoric of the losing side.
This stands in marked contrast to many earlier battles in Italy over political decisions, including previous attempts to introduce civil unions,where it was indeed the institutional church that led the opposition.
When Argentina approved full marriage and family equality a few years ago, it was speculated in some quarters that the failure of “the Church” to prevent it, was because of its late, and low key public intervention in the matter. Cardinal Bergoglio as Archbishop of Buenos Aires was then the leader of the Argentine.church. As Pope Francis, he now heads the global church – and the Vatican
I think this is very good news!! Yesterday Papa Francis cracked the door open for women deacons. That may be a long time coming but it’s a positive sign as is this development. I’m sure we can all think of more than a couple of women who are excellent preachers, Edwina Gateley, Joan Chittester, Elizabeth Johnson, etc. Sophia is alive in the church!!
For Italy to make even this step is welcome news. Yes, it could have been broader in scope, but it is a sign of hope and reason.