TV & Radio
Battle lines drawn as Italy plans law recognizing gay couples
by Gina Doggett
Sat Dec 9, 5:03 PM ET
Battle lines were drawn over a plan to grant legal status to gay couples in socially conservative Italy, with the Vatican up in arms along with the right-wing opposition.
L'Osservatore Romano, a Vatican mouthpiece, slammed the plan, warning in an editorial: "Eradicating the family is the priority of Italian politics," while the opposition also pledged to defend the traditional family.
Italian Prime Minister Romano Prodi said Thursday that his government would draft legislation on civil unions in the Catholic-majority country by January 31.
He said it would "represent a fundamental step forward" as his center-left Union coalition honors its electoral pledges.
The measure would apply to all unmarried couples without reference to their sexual orientation, granting them inheritance rights, joint medical insurance and visiting rights in prisons and hospitals, among others.
Friday's announcement of the planned legislation "confirms once again the hypocritical nature of these initiatives that aim to recognize an alternative form of family," L'Osservatore Romano said.
If the government insists it is defending "individual rights" and that "nothing intends to endanger the traditional family, it will be lying."
The Italian opposition, led by Forza Italia of former prime minister Silvio Berlusconi, also blasted the plan, while doubting whether Prodi's motley coalition -- ranging from communists, Greens and radicals to centrist and traditional Catholics -- will be able to unite behind the initiative.
"We will defend the family as we always have," Forza Italia's Isabella Bertolini told the ANSA news agency, while adding: "The false majority won't agree on anything."
Granting legal status to gay couples has been a subject of dispute not only between right and left in Italy but also within Prodi's Union coalition, which promised in its manifesto ahead of April elections to legally recognize common law partnerships, stressing that "their sexual orientation will not be an obstacle."
The head of Forza Italia's group in the Senate, Renato Schifani, said Saturday: "Nothing has been decided, as some in the left want people to believe.
"The debate on civil unions is completely open. Not only are we firmly opposed ... but the Catholics in the Union have already said they would never vote for it," he said.
A member of the Margherita party, a traditional Catholic grouping within Prodi's coalition, however told Saturday's Rome daily Il Messagero that he favored the recognition of gay couples' civil rights but not gay marriage or "parity between civil unions and the family."
A member of the small left-wing Rose in the Fist meanwhile accused "Catholic fundamentalists" of wanting to block the legislation.
"We are in the presence of a veritable cultural and philosophical offensive with the authoritative guidance of the pope who wants to impose on Italy a sort of tutelage by the Church on civil and political life, unknown in other big European democracies," Roberto Villetti told ANSA.
He was reacting after Pope Benedict XVI said Saturday that religious symbols should be allowed in public places.
The Vatican condemned Spain's gay marriage law last year as "a defeat for humanity" and attacked Prodi for "tearing apart the family in a search for votes."
Italy splits over status of gay, unwed couples
By Phil Stewart
7:34 a.m. December 8, 2006
ROME – Italy's political right and Catholic Church officials voiced outrage on Friday at a Senate request that the government put forward legislation giving rights to unmarried couples, including homosexual ones.
One Roman Catholic cardinal warned the move risked 'destroying' the family and centre-right opposition leaders threatened to put up a stiff fight in parliament.
The motion, passed late on Thursday, commits the government to present a bill over recognition to unwed couples by January 31. But it was vague and stopped short of suggesting legally binding marriage contracts to same-sex couples.
It came just days after a city in northern Italy's Catholic heartland became the first in the country to allow unmarried heterosexuals and homosexuals to register formally as couples.
'By opening the door to new forms of cohabitation there is the risk of destroying the family,' Cardinal George Cottier told Italy's left-leaning La Repubblica newspaper.
Cardinal Paul Poupard cautioned that the family taught 'man and woman about how to be social'.
Prime Minister Romano Prodi, who campaigned on giving legal recognition for unwed couples, said the unanimous Senate motion about a form of national legislation 'represents a fundamental step forward'.
Centre-right politicians saw it as a mission-creep toward legalising gay marriage and threatened to block the measure.
CLASH IN PARLIAMENT
'There will be a clash in parliament in January over civic values but (the bill) will not pass,' said Osvaldo Napoli, with the opposition Forza Italia party in the lower house.
Many in the centre left support legal recognition of unwed heterosexual and homosexual couples similar to that in France, which has granted all couples the right to form civil unions, and to joint social security and other benefits.
Family Minister Rosy Bindi said any Italian move would be a far cry from legalising gay marriage, adding 'it should not be a source of concern even for the Church'.
But the Church was already up in arms after the city council of Padua in the northern Veneto region on Monday voted in favour of allowing homosexual and heterosexual couples to register as 'families based on ties of affection'.
It would allow the couples to receive a 'certification of family' document from Padua city hall establishing the date a family was started.
Such certificates are needed in Italy to join waiting lists for public housing, to obtain permission from employers to stay away from work to assist a sick family member at home or in hospital, and for various minor legal proceedings.
In a strongly worded editorial, the Vatican newspaper L'Osservatore Romano condemned the move as an 'incredible' attempt to allow what it called 'a parallel family' and branded its political backers as 'hypocrites'.
Italy's opposition promises to battle proposed legislation giving rights to unmarried couples
The Associated Press
Friday, December 8, 2006
Opposition leaders reacted angrily Friday to a request by the Senate's center-left majority to give unmarried couples — including gays — some of the same rights as married couples, and promised to fight what they said was harmful to families and Italy's Catholic tradition.
The issue is a divisive one in a nation that is home to the Vatican and is still influenced by church positions. It is also sensitive for the coalition of Premier Romano Prodi, which ranges from Christian Democrats to anti-Vatican radicals and has struggled to find a common position on the matter.
At issue is a decision Thursday by the majority in the Senate, which called unanimously on the government to come up with legislation for all unmarried couples by the end of next month.
Barbara Pollastrini, equal opportunities minister, agreed in a statement Friday that the government would do so by the end of January.
"This is an answer to a maiden prayer for the right, because it's something they can raise a big stink about and take attention away from the issue of money and who is responsible for the debt," said James Walston, political science professor at the American University in Rome.
The response from the opposition was swift.
"We will fight this in parliament and in the country, getting the moderate, Catholic and non Catholic groups, involved," Pier Ferdinando Casini, a Christian Democrat and opposition leader, said in a statement carried by Italian news agencies.
Among other things, the proposed legislation would give unmarried couples including gays inheritance rights, joint medical insurance, visiting rights in prisons and hospitals, the right to carry on one another's leases, and the right to take decisions in case one partner becomes ill.
"There is one part of the majority that wants to bring Italy closer to Zapatero's Spain, making the regular family equal to homosexual cohabitants," Casini added, referring to the Socialist government of Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero, which legalized gay marriage last year and has pushed through other liberal laws including fast-track divorce and less onerous terms for medically assisted fertilization.
"This is an offense to the identity of the family and the Catholic principles of the majority of Italians," Enrico La Loggia, a deputy with the conservative Forza Italia party, was quoted as saying by the ANSA news agency.
The Senate's majority asked for the legislation after it took out a reference to unmarried couples in a fiscal measure contained in the proposed 2007 budget, which must be approved by parliament by the end of the year.
Prodi called the move a "step forward" in putting the government's platform into effect and said addressing the issue of unmarried unions was "crucial." However, he has said his government would stop short of endorsing gay marriage, which the Vatican firmly opposes.
About 90 percent of Italy's 58 million citizens are at least nominally Catholic.
Senate majority asks Italian government to propose legislation on unmarried couples
The Associated Press
Thursday, December 7, 2006
The center-left majority at the Senate called on Premier Romano Prodi's government on Thursday to present legislation giving legal rights to unmarried couples by the end of next month.
The issue is a touchy one in this overwhelmingly Roman Catholic nation that hosts the Vatican and is still influenced to a degree by church positions. It is also sensitive for Prodi's coalition, which ranges from Christian Democrats to anti-Vatican radicals and has been struggling to find a common position on the matter.
The majority in the Senate has agreed to take out a reference to unmarried couples in a fiscal measure in the 2007 budget, which must be approved by parliament by the end of the year.
But it also unanimously called on the government to come up with the legislation on unmarried couples, including homosexual ones, by the end of next month.
"We have decided to present a motion ... that calls for a government proposal by Jan. 31 on couples," said Anna Finocchiaro, a senator for the center-left coalition.
Finocchiaro said the proposal should "recognize rights, also in fiscal matters, and prerogatives to people who are part of an unmarried couple," without any discrimination over gender or sexual orientation.
Prodi called the move a "step forward" in putting the government's platform into effect and said the issue of unmarried unions was a "crucial" one.
However, finding a common position on what sort of legal status should be given to unmarried couples — and whether that would include homosexual ones — is likely to spur further bickering within the center-left coalition.
Prodi's electoral platform included a generic pledge to give some legal status to unmarried couples, but made no direct reference to homosexual ones and offered no details — a possible sign of the divisions among coalition members.
In another sign of tensions, some leftist lawmakers complained Thursday that the reference to unmarried couples had been taken out of the budget measure.
Prodi has said his government would stop short of endorsing gay marriage, which the Vatican firmly opposes.
About 90 percent of Italy's 58 million citizens are at least nominally Catholic.
"Nobody wants to discriminate against de-facto or gay couples. But it must be clear that in no way can homosexual unions be considered equal to families in our legislation," said Pier Ferdinando Casini, a Christian Democrat and opposition leader.