Italy issues green light for gay civil unions
ROME, Italy – Italy's parliament on Wednesday, May 11, gave a green light for the introduction of gay civil unions in the last major Western country not to legally recognize same-sex relationships.
Lawmakers in the lower-house Chamber of Deputies voted 369-193 in favor of a vote of confidence in the government which makes final approval of the divisive civil unions bill automatic.
The long-awaited and much-disputed legislation was hailed as a civil rights landmark but also criticized as falling short of full equality for gay couples, particularly in relation to adoption rights.
The bill itself was expected to be voted later Wednesday.
Prime Minister Matteo Renzi called the confidence vote to short-circuit potential last-minute blocking or delaying amendments by opponents of the legislation, who include rebels in his own party as well as the Catholic right.
"Today is a day of celebration for so many people," Renzi wrote on his Facebook page ahead of the vote.
"We are writing another important page of the Italy we want ... it was no longer acceptable to have any more delays after years of failed attempts."
The government used the same confidence vote tactic to get the bill approved by the upper house Senate in February, but only after the original text had been diluted to appease opponents threatening to scupper it altogether.
A draft article that would have granted gay couples the right to adopt their partners' biological children was dropped. While adoption will not be ruled out entirely, family judges will decide on a case-by-case basis.
'A bittersweet victory'
In the face of concern that civil unions would be too similar to marriage, references to a need for faithfulness were also removed.
Gay couples will be able to take each other's names and inherit each other's residual pension rights, but critics say the new rules fall short of legal protection offered to same-sex couples in other European countries, Canada and the United States.
"For Italian homosexuals and all those who support civil rights, it's a bittersweet victory," said Claudio Rossi Marcelli, a commentator for Internazionale magazine, who lives with his husband and children in Denmark.
"The glass is half full," Gabriele Piazzoni, national secretary of the Arcigay organisation, said in a statement.
"The text contains the recognition and protection many gays and lesbians have been waiting for all their lives... (but) everything this law has failed to guarantee leaves a bitter taste."
Several previous attempts to legalize civil unions in Italy have foundered, often due to opposition orchestrated by the Catholic church.
In 2007, a mass protest led the center-left government of Romano Prodi to drop a much less ambitious civil union project – and the failure of the bill was cited as one of the causes behind the fall of his government in early 2008.
The current bill risked running aground over the adoption clause, with critics insisting it would open the door to surrogacy, which is illegal under Italian law.
Renzi's Interior Minister Angelino Alfano was among the most fervent opponents of providing a legal framework for surrogacy, saying in January the the use of paid surrogate mothers should be treated like a sex crime.
At the same time, the center-left premier faced pressure to get a bill onto the statute book from the European Court of Human Rights.
Judges at the court ruled last year that Italy had breached its commitments under the European Convention on Human Rights by denying gay couples legal unions.
Opinion polls suggest Italian public opinion has moved decisively in favor of civil unions in recent years but that a majority of voters remains opposed to extending equal adoption rights to gay couples.
The decision to use a confidence vote to push the bill through angered the Church, with Nunzio Galantino, secretary general of the Italian Bishops' conference, describing it as "a defeat for everyone." – Angus MacKinnon & Ella Ide, AFP / Rappler.com