Δευτέρα, 21 Ιανουαρίου 2013

Italy is alone with Greece in lagging behind Europe, having no laws granting rights to homosexuals or legislation against homophobic crimes.


Paola Concia cuts a lonely figure as one of only two declared homosexuals in  parliament, but she strongly believes that her long battle for gay rights will overcome resistance from the powerful Church and “medieval” MPs and bring Italy into line with mainstream Europe.


“The time has come,” she says, confident that Italy’s next government will have to face up to the issue, and that society is ready for change.
 
Gay rights is emerging as an important but sensitive campaign theme as Italy heads to general elections in late February. The main parties are reaching out – with varying degrees of conviction – to attract the gay vote while trying not to alienate Catholics who are estimated to make up at least a third of the electorate. 

 

Italy is alone with Greece in lagging behind Europe, having no laws granting rights to homosexuals or legislation against homophobic crimes.



But now political leaders, under pressure from the media and their own constituencies, are being forced to confront the issue. Most are taking the cautious line of supporting civil unions but not gay marriage or adoptions.



Even Silvio Berlusconi has backtracked. At the height of his alleged sex scandals involving prostitutes and teenage girls, the billionaire media mogul declared it is “better to be passionate about beautiful women than being gay”. Now on the campaign trail he says he is in favour of gay rights.





“Hot air,” retorts Ms Concia of the centre-left Democratic party.

 Mario Monti, who replaced Mr Berlusconi as prime minister, is struggling to articulate a clear position for his centrist grouping. A Catholic endorsed by leading Italian clerics and the Vatican’s newspaper, Mr Monti is treading a careful line. Last week he said he believed families should be “based on marriage and formed by a man and a woman” but that there would be no party line imposed in parliament.

Mr Monti included two known gay activists among the candidates running for his Civic Choice movement, although one soon withdrew after what he called a smear campaign by a right-wing newspaper. Mr Monti’s main political ally, Union of the Centre, is dominated by conservative Catholics, some fiercely opposed to legal recognition for gay couples.







Pier Luigi Bersani’s centre-left Democratic party – well ahead in most opinion polls – is open to gay unions but not to adoption by homosexual couples. His left-wing electoral ally, Nichi Vendola, governor of the region of Puglia and Italy’s most prominent declared gay politician, is campaigning for full recognition of rights for gay couples.


Despite the Vatican’s unrelenting opposition – Pope Benedict last month said the family was threatened “to its foundations” by gay marriage -- Italian society is  moving in the opposite direction, as it has with past referenda on allowing abortion and divorce.


In its first report on homosexual issues in Italy, the official statistics institute Istat  found last year that over 60 per cent of people supported in general equal rights for gays although only 20 per cent would back their right to adopt.

“Citizens are well ahead of their politicians, and are aware that gay citizens are without rights,” Ms Concia said. “In this, parliament absolutely does not reflect society,” she adds. It is well known in Italy that several prominent politicians are gay but have not declared so in public.



Dario De Gregorio, a 48-year-old manager who has been with his partner for 27 years, is hopeful that international pressure, especially from Europe, and a recent ruling by the Italian courts in favour of gay rights, will bring about change.



“The situation is disastrous. Or better, inexistent. Simply, gay couples do not exist for Italian law. With regards to children, it’s a farce,” says Mr De Gregorio, father of a baby girl.  “The obstacle? Ignorance, ignorance, and more ignorance. And a good dose of indifference. I shiver when I read certain declarations by politicians.”

Guy Dinmore



Financial Times

Rome correspondent


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