By Abby Shamray
Italy’s Senate approved the first law recognizing civil unions in the country on February 25, moving the bill to the lower house of Parliament where it will be voted on in the coming weeks. The bill, called Cirinnà after Senator Monica Cirinnà who wrote it, grants same-sex couples similar rights to married couples including financial and moral support, the ability to share a last name, common home address, and inheritance and pension rights.
Some municipalities in Italy currently allow local civil unions, but the national ban on same-sex marriage limited the benefits of the existing provision, according to BBC News. In 2015, the European Court of Human right ruled that Italy’s lack of legal protection for same-sex couples violated Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights, which protects the right to respect for private and family life, and called the existing provision “not sufficiently reliable.”
According to the New York Times, Maria Elena Boschi, minister of constitutional reforms, said in a statement that the law “finally affirm[s] that the life project of a same-sex couple is not worth less than that between a man and a woman.” Prime Minister Matteo Renzi called the bill “historic” on Twitter the day before the vote, tweeting, “L’amore vince,” or love wins, after the bill passed.
While the original bill contained a provision giving same-sex couples the right to stepchild adoption, there was enough resistance in the Senate that cutting that passage was necessary in order to secure its 173-71 Senate win, according to the New York Times.
As such, many LGBT organizations do not consider the legislation a victory. Marilena Grassadonia, president of Italy’s Rainbow Families, an LGBT parents’ association, told the New York Times, “It’s a useless and empty law. These children already exist; the prime minister recently said that all children are equal in Italy. Today, that’s unfortunately not the case.”
The exclusion of the ability to adopt in the bill was a last-minute effort in order to overcome the main opposition to the bill from center-right parties and the Roman Catholic Church, which has significant influence on the country despite Italy not having an official state religion, according to the Guardian.
Angelino Alfano, Italy’s interior minister and leader of the New Centre Right Party, said of the exclusion of same-sex adoption rights on a televised comment, “It was a beautiful gift to Italy to have prevented same-sex couples from having a child, as nature prevents that. We prevented an anthropological revolution against nature.” Another concession made to appeal to the New Centre Right Party was to erase any references that could allude to civil unions as being on par with marriage, including getting rid of the requirement for couples being sworn into civil unions having to promise to be faithful, as is required for marriage, according to the Times of Malta.
A few of the Vatican’s top cardinals weighed in on the bill, as reported by Crux, a news organization that focuses on the Catholic Church. Italian Cardinal Pietro Parolin, the Vatican’s top diplomat, stressed that the Italian legislation create a clear boundary between civil unions and marriages. Pope Francis, when asked about the bill in a press conference on the spread of the Zika virus, declined to comment, stating, “The Pope doesn’t get mixed up in Italian politics.”
Many believe that it was not the influence of the Catholic Church that led to the exclusion of the stepchild adoption provision, but rather of Renzi’s political opponent Beppe Grillo, former comedian and founder of the populist Five Star Movement. The Five Star Movement, which has traditionally supported same-sex marriage, backed out of a parliamentary deal with the Democratic Party, which may have allowed the original legislation to pass, according to the Guardian. Though Grillo has traditionally supported same-sex marriage, according to his blog, the party withdrew its support of the bill because the public had not been given the option to vote on stepchild adoption in online polling on October 2014, which went against the party’s advocacy of direct democracy.
The passage of the bill in the lower legislature would no longer make Italy the only country in Western Europe to not recognize civil unions, but it would still remain the only country that fails to recognize adoptions, according to CNN. Political analysts speculate that the bill should pass easily in the lower legislature based on the 173-71 win in the Senate.