Senator Cirinna with supporters of same-sex civil unions. via Slate
At last, Italy, the country of Virgil and Dante, of Michelangelo and Titian, of Aquinas and a few other icons of European culture, has become a “civil country”. This is what the country’s media maintain, now that the “Cirinnà bill” on same-sex and civil unions has been approved by parliament.
In spite of the many months of discussion about the bill, which is the first official recognition of families different from the “married man and woman” model, a true debate in parliament has been carefully avoided.
The current ruling majority in Italy is a shaky balance of right- and left-wing parties, which had originally agreed to support a “technical government”, and then was handed over to Matteo Renzi, who thus is a Prime Minister not elected by the country and who gave a more neutral alliance of parties a distinct turn to the left.
The legislation, authored by senator Monica Cirinna, started its parliamentary process a few months ago when it was feared, by those supporting the traditional view of family, that the more extreme positions (such as the acceptance of surrogacy) would be admitted. At that stage some of the moderate components of the majority (including right-wing parties and some leftists) supported the acceptance of a compromise: if surrogacy and stepchild adoption were to be omitted from the bill, then the remainder (including rights to inheritance, to receive the deceased partner’s pension etc.) would not be opposed any more.
Of course, compromises are the daily bread of politics, but what has happened in the last few days seems far from what democracy implies. Not only has the parliament chosen to ignore the manifest disagreement of a large percentage of citizens who gathered in millions to express their support for the “traditional” family; it has also dodged a detailed vote on the single issues of the bill.
As mentioned before, “the Cirinnà” concerns heterosexual civil unions and same-sex pseudo-marriage (though it is not called such). And there are a number of issues contained in the Act, whose several articles ought to be discussed and voted individually. Instead, Renzi asked Parliament for a vote of confidence on the entire bill, meaning that the failure to approve the whole bill would have plunged the country (and the shaky majority) into a government crisis.
A number of Constitutionalists and political analysts have pointed out inconsistencies and problematic aspects of the legislation which might have been amended had the individual articles undergone a distinct vote.
For a start, the Italian Constitution clearly expresses its support for the social institution of the family; however (and contrary to the recommendation of the Constitutional Court in 2010), the Act de facto gives to civil unions the same rights (and significantly fewer duties) than to wedded couples. The only difference regards adoption, which is (presently) not admitted for homosexual couples, though the gift of prophecy is not needed for foreseeing trouble here.
Among the missing duties of those choosing to be “civilly united” is that of assisting and giving care to their partner in need, which is one of the fundamental duties of traditional marriage; bigamy seems not to be a criminal offence when one of the civil partners commits it (as it is for wedded spouses); and while civil unions are forbidden among close relatives, the Act does not specify the limit of this “closeness”.
Another problem has already emerged as some civil officers are making it clear that they will not officiate at these unions; they are claiming the right to conscientious objection, which is not mentioned in the Act.
Some opponents of the new law are starting a campaign for a referendum with the aim of overturning it — at least the part which concerns homosexual unions. While this move makes sense, in view of the doubtful constitutionality of some provisions, the tradition of Italian referendums (which need to reach a quorum to be valid) seems to condemn such an attempt to failure.
Time will tell. For the moment, we are all enjoying the news that we are – after more than two millennia of obscurity – a civil country.
Dr Chiara Bertoglio is a musician, a musicologist and a theologian writing from Italy. She is particularly interested in the relationships between music and the Christian faith, and has written several books on this subject. Visit her website.