Recognition of same-sex unions in Italy

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Notwithstanding a long history of legislative proposals for civil unions, there is no official recognition of same-sex unions in Italy. Several regions have formally supported efforts for national law on civil unions and some municipalities have passed laws providing for civil unions. While some of these do provide real benefits they are mostly of symbolic value. Attempts by the Government of Romano Prodi in 2007 to introduce legislation failed after members of the governing coalition threatened division in opposition to the proposals. The Roman Catholic Church has been influential in blocking legislation.[1] As of 2015, Italy is the last major western European country that does not formally recognise same-sex relationships.


In 1986 the Inter-parliamentary Women's Communist group and Arcigay (Italy's main gay rights organization), for the first time raised the issue of civil unions within the Italian parliament. This was led by Ersilia Salvato in the Italian Senate and by Romano Bianchi and Angela Bottari in the lower house who together attempted to introduce the idea of legislation. In 1988, following lobbying by Arcigay, Alma Cappiello Agate (lawyer and socialist parliamentarian) introduced the first bill in parliament (PdL N. 2340, Directive on the de facto family, 12 February 1988), calling for the acknowledgment of cohabitation between "persons". The bill failed, but Cappiello's proposal received wide coverage in the press (where some journalists spoke about second-class marriage), and acknowledged for the first time the possibility of homosexual unions.

During the 1990s a succession of civil union bills were regularly introduced and rejected in parliament, bolstered by discussion in the European Parliament on equal rights for homosexuals on marriage and adoption.

During the XIIIth parliamentary session, at least ten bills were presented (by Nichi Vendola, Luigi Manconi, Gloria Buffo, Ersilia Salvato, Graziano Cioni, Antonio Soda, Luciana Sbarbati, Antonio Lisi, Anna Maria De Luca, and Mauro Paissan). None of these ever made it to discussion on the floor of the house - not least due to the explicit influence and strident opposition of the Catholic hierarchy which often spoke up on political issues with an ethical resonance.

In September 2003 the European Parliament approved a new resolution on human rights against discrimination on the grounds of sexual orientation. Each member state had to confirm it would work to abolish any form of discrimination - legislative or de facto. During the XIVth parliament political activity led by Franco Grillini debated proposals for PACs which found cross-sectional support.

Grillini introduced proceedings in parliament on 8 July 2002 based on legislation already existing in Denmark. However, the PACs principle was given particular resonance by the union on 21 October 2002 between Alessio De Giorgi and Christian Pierre Panicucci at the French Embassy in Rome. That day same Grillini introduced the bill in parliament; it ultimately failed but had been supported by 161 parliamentarians from the centre-left.

The Prodi II government[edit]

During the 2006 electoral campaign, the then leader of the opposition, Romano Prodi, promised to give legal rights to de facto couples if elected.[2] Mr. Prodi's left-of-centre coalition subsequently gained power and in February 2007 the government approved a draft bill to recognise domestic partnerships under the name DIritti e doveri delle persone stabilmente COnviventi (DICO) (English: Rights and duties of stable co-habitants). The bill proposed to give unmarried couples, including same-sex couples, health and social welfare benefits, and provide an entitlement to inherit after a couple has been living together for at least nine years.[3] The bill faced considerable opposition from the Catholic Church,[4] and in the Senate from the majority of the right-wing opposition and even from certain elements within Mr. Prodi's own fractious coalition. Delays meant the bill could not reach the floor for a conclusive vote.

A demonstration was held in Rome on 10 March 2007 in support of the legislation and in order to avoid it being forfeited by Mr Prodi. Thousands of activists waved alarm clocks in the air, signalling it was high time for such a law. Some government officials (such as the Minister for Equal Opportunities, Barbara Pollastrini, and the Minister for Social Solidarity, Paolo Ferrero) took part in the demonstration and were later criticized by Mr Prodi for their participation.[5] Two days later the Conference of Italian Bishops (CEI) staged a counter-demonstration, also in Rome. Police sources claim that about 800,000 people went to the demonstration, including some Catholic Government ministers such as Clemente Mastella and Giuseppe Fioroni.[6] On 16 June, the annual Rome Gay Pride hit a record attendance of about 1,000,000 demonstrators. The Pride parade had a strong political flavour, as LGBT associations meant it to be a response to the opposition demonstrations.[7]

Later in the year, the DICO bill was merged with other civil union proposals and the Senate's Judiciary Committee discussed a new draft known as Contratto di Unione Solidale (Contract for Social Unions). Nevertheless, in February 2008, an early election was called, thus dissolving the incumbent Parliament, and all pending legislation died in committee.

Two Italian filmmakers, Gustav Hofer and Luca Ragazzi, followed the whole discussion of the DICO law and made an award-winning documentary Suddenly, Last Winter (Improvvisamente l'inverno scorso).[8]

The Berlusconi IV government[edit]

Although the governing majority (The People of Freedom - Lega Nord) of the Berlusconi government was elected in May 2008 without promising any improvement for same-sex couples' rights, some party MPs (such as Renato Brunetta, Minister for Innovation and Public Administration, Lucio Barani and Francesco De Luca) attempted to act independently and submitted legislation to the Parliament.[9] A proposed private member's bill (act C.1756) called DiDoRe (DIritti e DOveri di REciprocità dei conviventi, Mutual rights and duties for cohabiting partners) was introduced but ultimately failed. If it had been adopted it would only have been akin to "unregistered cohabitation", as it did not provide for a public registry system.

The Monti government[edit]

The Monti government did not enact any legislation recognising same-sex relationships. There were, however, a number of significant developments in the Italian judicial system. In 2009, a gay couple from Venice sued the local administration for denying them a marriage license. The case was referred by the Tribunal of Venice to the Constitutional Court concerned at a possible conflict between the Civil Code (which does not allow for same-sex marriage) and articles 3 of the Italian Constitution (which forbids any kind of discrimination), and article 29 (which states an ambiguous gender-neutral definition of marriage). The Constitutional Court ruled on April 14, 2010 that the statutory ban on same sex marriage was not a violation of the Constitution.[10][11]

In January 2011 the Court of Cassation reversed a lower decision which stated that an EU citizen married to an Italian citizen of the same-sex was not permitted to stay in Italy, because they were not a family according to Italian law. The High Court ruled that the lower judge should have applied the European Directive 2004/38/EC on the right of the citizens of the Union to move and reside freely within the Member States.

In 2012 the courts considered the case of a gay couple made up of an Italian man who married an Uruguayan citizen in Spain.[12] In a landmark ruling the Court of Cassation stated on 15 March 15 that 'same-sex couples have the same right to a family life as married straight couples', adding that 'the judiciary shall grant them the same legal rights as enjoyed under marriage on a case-by-case rule'. Even though the Court's judgments are not binding outside the case decided, lower courts find those judgments persuasive. Whereas the Parliament remains free to introduce same-sex unions or not, the verdict paves the way for such unions to be equivalent to marriage in all but name and for judges to recognize individual rights to cohabiting couples.[13][14] Marriages celebrated abroad going forward would allow the non-EU national partner to obtain an Italian permanent residence permit.

In May 2012, the Italy of Values political party (Italia dei Valori) became the first party to announce publicly that it would push for same-sex marriage. The party leader, Antonio Di Pietro said, "Our party has been the first in Italy to follow US president Barack Obama. We invite other Italian parties to support gay marriage. You don’t have to be shy, you have to say yes".[15]

In July 2012, the Democratic Party (Italy) approved its platform on civil rights, including the recognition of same-sex unions. The secular wing of the party tried to get a vote on its motion on marriage for same-sex couples, but it was stopped by the Civil Rights board.[16] The following day, the leader of Five Star Movement, Beppe Grillo, criticised the event and came out in favour of marriage for same-sex couples.[17]

In July 2012, the Democratic Party (Italy) approved its platform on Civil Rights, including the recognition of same-sex unions. The secular wing of the party tried to get a vote on its motion on same-sex marriage, but it was stopped by the Civil Rights board.[16] The following day, the leader of Five Star Movement, Beppe Grillo, criticised the event and came out in favour of full same-sex marriage.[17]

The Letta government[edit]

On 28 April 2013 the Letta Government, a grand coalition cabinet, was formed by some members from PD, PdL and SC. Only the Democratic Party and SEL pledged its support to same-sex relationship recognition during the political campaign.

On 14 May 2013, the Italian parliament extended healthcare benefits to MPs' same-sex partners. This rule was already in effect for heterosexual partners for decades.[18] The same month, an Italian judge registered an English civil partnership contracted by two Italian men. The registration occurred in Milan and the male couple was registered in the local civil union register approved in 2012.[19]

The Equalities Minister, Josefa Idem (PD), then announced she would introduce a parliamentary bill which would recognise same-sex unions and cohabitants rights.[20] In June, the Justice Commission of the Italian Senate started to examine several bills concerning the recognition of same-sex couples.[21] Three bills (S.15, S.204 and S.393) will allow same-sex couples to marry and the other three (S.197, S.239 and S.314) will allow them (and opposite-sex couples) to register their partnership as cohabitants.[22][23][24][25][26][27]

The Renzi government[edit]

On 15 December 2013, the newly elected secretary of the Democratic Party, Matteo Renzi announced that the party will work on the recognition of same-sex relationships. During the political campaign for the election of the new party secretary, Renzi identified the solution previous used in the UK and known as Civil partnerships (although Britain subsequently introduced marriage for same-sex couples in 2014).[28] Renzi subsequently became Italian Prime Minister in February 2014. Leading Italian politicians such as Ignazio Marino, the Mayor of Rome, Giuliano Pisapia, of Milan, and Virginio Merola, of Bologna, have pressed for such legislation to be urgently passed.[1]

Renzi initially planned a discussion in September 2014, and without the use of a government decree nor of a confidence motion, that would accelerate the debate. The bill was under the Senate's Justice Committee and it was many times delayed due to the New Centre-Right filibustering. The bill would have guaranteed the same benefits reserved for marriage, but it would have been available for same-sex couples only. Furthermore, step-parent adoption was included while joint adoption wasn't, following the Germany's registered life partnerships. It was supported by a large majority: the Democratic Party, the Five Star Movement, half of Forza Italia, Left Ecology Freedom. Some MPs are against the step-child adoption, while others demand same-sex marriage.[29]

On 9 February, the Supreme Court of Cassation upheld the Judgment 138/2010 of the Constitutional Court, by stating that opening marriage to same-sex couples was not unconstitutional nor was a constitutional right, but a Parliament decision only, as well as introducing Civil Unions or Civil Partnerships. Since the Constitutional Court has made its own interpretation of the Constitution, the Supreme Court could not raise questions of constitutionality on this matter.[30]

On 10 June 2015, the Chamber of Deputies, which is the lower house of the Italian Parliament, passed a motion that obliged the government to approve a bill regarding civil unions between persons of the same-sex. All the major parties have presented different motions, all rejected except for the Democratic Party's.[31] Just some days before the European Parliament has passed a different motion which pushed all the members of the European Union to recognize same-sex relationships and families, despite not having force of law.

On 21 July 2015, the European Court of Human Rights, in the case Oliari and Others v. Italy, ruled that Italy violates the European Convention on Human Rights by not recognizing same-sex couples' right to family life.[32]

On 7 October a bill which would establish same-sex civil unions and gender-neutral cohabitation agreements was submitted to parliament. It had its first reading in the Senate on 14 October 2015.[33] Although Berlusconi, leader of the opposition party Forza Italia, declared his support for both the recognition of same-sex couples and step-child adoption, many MPs from his party criticise or oppose the bill. However, despite having a free vote, Renzi wants the bill to be approved as soon as possible.[34]

Views of Major Churches[edit]

  • Roman Catholic Church

The Roman Catholic Church is the largest and the most influential Christian denomination in Italy. It is opposed to any recognition of same-sex relationships and has repeatedly blocked the introduction of such civil legislation.[1] However, there has been public disagreement on the issues between senior figures.

In 2007, Angelo Bagnasco (Archbishop of Genoa, and Chair of the Italian Bishop's Conference) compared the idea of recognising same-sex unions directly with state recognition for incest and paedophilia.[35][36] He later condemned a ruling made by the Tuscan courts in 2014 which, for the first time in Italy, recognized the marriage of a gay couple who had wed in New York.[37] He has also described gay civil unions and same-sex marriages as a “Trojan horse” that fundamentally weaken the institution of the family.[38]

In his book Credere e conoscere, published shortly before his death in 2012, Cardinal Carlo Maria Martini, the former Archbishop of Milan, set out his disagreement with opposition by Catholics to homosexual civil unions: "I disagree with the positions of those in the Church, that take issue with civil unions", he wrote."It is not bad, instead of casual sex between men, that two people have a certain stability" and said that the "state could recognize them". Although he stated his belief that "the homosexual couple, as such, can never be totally equated to a marriage".[39][40]

  • Waldensian Evangelical Church

The Waldensian Evangelical Church became the first Italian Christian denominations to state its support to same-sex couples in 2010.[41]

  • Lutheran Evangelical Church in Italy

The Lutheran Evangelical Church in Italy support same-sex couples and allowed blessings of same-sex unions in 2011.[42]

Italian public opinion[edit]

During a protest on 13 January 2007, 50,000 gay rights activists, according to the police, protested in Vatican City in favour of the creation of a new law regulating same-sex unions.[2]

Demonstration in favor of PACS, May 2005

According to a poll in February 2007, 67% of Italian Catholics backed the draft bill proposed by the Prodi coalition, and 80% of Italians said they supported the law.[43] On the other hand, the Autumn 2006 Eurobarometer survey showed that only 31% of Italians thought that same-sex marriages should be allowed throughout Europe and 24% were in favour of opening up adoption to same-sex couples. This was below the European Union average of 44% and 32% respectively.[44]

A Eurispes poll conducted in early 2009 showed that 40.4% of Italians supported same-sex civil marriage, while 18.5% supported civil unions but not marriage. Thus, 58.9% of respondents supported some form of recognition for same-sex couples. The only area with majority support for same-sex marriage was in the north-west (Piedmont and Liguria, where 54.8% were in favour of it). Nevertheless, in every Italian region except Sicily, a majority supported some form of recognition for same-sex couples. Among those who consider themselves on the political left, 66.5% supported same-sex marriage.[45] The same poll was repeated in January 2010. 41.0% of respondents now supported same-sex marriage, with 20.4% supporting civil unions. Thus, support for some form of recognition for same-sex couples rose to 61.4%.[46]

On the occasion of the International Day against Homophobia on 17 May 2012 the National Bureau of Statistics (ISTAT) released an official report commissioned by the Government on the attitudes towards homosexuality in the Italian population. The poll, conducted in 2011, found that 62.8% of the interviewees are in favour of civil unions with the same rights as marriage. Those who agree with same-sex marriage increased to 43.9% with Central Italy (52.6%), 18–34 years old (53.4%) and women (47%) being the geographical, age and gender categories most in favour. Significantly, every region supported civil unions, with support being highest in Central Italy (72.2%) and lowest in the South and Islands (51.2%).[47]

A May 2013 Ipsos poll found that 48% of respondents were in favour of same-sex marriage and another 31% supported other form of recognition for same-sex couples.[48]

According to the Ifop poll, conducted in May 2013, 42% of Italians supported allowing same-sex couples to marry and adopt children.[49]

An October 2014 Demos poll found that 55% of respondents were in favour of same-sex marriage with 42% against.[50]

The 2015 Eurobarometer found that 55% of Italians thought that same-sex marriage should be allowed throughout Europe, 35% were against.[51]

In January 2016 a poll showed that 46% were in favour and 40% against civil unions for same sex couples. With regards to same-sex marriage 38% were in favour and the majority of 55% were against. Finally, 85% of those polled were against adoption by same-sex couples.[52]

Italians support for gay rights 2009 2010 2012 2013 2014 2016
recognition for same-sex couples 58.9% 61.4% 62.8% 79% - -
same-sex marriage 40.4% 41% 43.9% 48% 55% 38%
civil unions but not marriage 18.5% 20.4% 18.9% 31% - 46%

Local civil union registries and other local initiatives[edit]

As of 2015, more than 250 municipalities and cities throughout Italy have introduced civil union registries (registro delle unioni civili) which formally recognise same-sex couples.[53] These registers mostly have a symbolic value and are not legally binding, even though in some cases they offer very limited local benefits. Major cities which offer civil union registries include Rome, Bologna, Padua, Florence, Pisa, Bolzano, Palermo, Naples, Milan and Genoa.

Demonstrators in favour of PACS, February 2006

Furthermore, several regional governments have introduced symbolic registries for same-sex couples. These include:

Region Date of recognition
Tuscany July 17, 2004
Umbria July 29, 2004
Emilia-Romagna September 14, 2004
Campania September 19, 2004
Marche December 6, 2004
Veneto March 1, 2005
Apulia December 9, 2005
Lazio December 14, 2005
Liguria March 16, 2006
Abruzzo April 20, 2006
Sicily March 4, 2015

In July 2012, Mayor Giuliano Pisapia promised to introduce a formal register of gay civil unions for the city of Milan, the largest city in Northern Italy, which would be designed to afford some legal protections to gay couples who cohabit, but these would not be equivalent to marriage rights. A spokesman for the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Milan responded by arguing there was a "risk that giving equal status to families based on marriage with those founded on civil unions will legitimise polygamy".[54] On July 27, 2012 the Town Council approved the Register of Civil Unions in 29-7 vote.[55]

In January 2013, the Hospital of Padua recognized same-sex parents for the first time in Italy. The Hospital replaced the words "Mother" and "Father" with the gender-neutral word "Partner".[56] In August 2013 a Venice city councillor proposed to replace the word 'Mother and 'Father' in the local documents (on local school premises) with the words 'Parent 1' and 'Parent 2' ('Genitore 1' and 'Genitore 2'). The project ignited a debate in which the Minister of Integration, Cécile Kyenge, intervened and praised the bid. The motion was later not pursued. The Venice proposal then arrived in Bologna, where the executive body of the city proposed an alternative resolution, replacing Mother and Father with 'Parent' and 'Other Parent' ('Genitore ' and 'Altro Genitore'). The words will replace the traditional ones.[57]

On April 9, 2014, the Civil Court of Grosseto ordered that a same-sex marriage contracted abroad be recognised in the municipality. The order was then voided by the Court of Appeals of Florence.[58] Grosseto was followed by the cities of Bologna, Naples, and Fano in July 2014,[59][60] Empoli, Pordenone, Udine and Trieste in September 2014,[61][62][63] and Florence, Piombino, Milan, Rome and Livorno in October 2014.[64][65][66]

In 2014, the Italian Interior Minister Angelino Alfano ordered all prefects to annul all registrations made by mayors recognising gay marriages made abroad, arguing that the Italian Civil Code makes no mention of same-sex marriage and so any attempt to recognise it is therefore illegal.[67] The legal system has already been used to stop some mayors recognising gay couples, but all such cases have ultimately been dismissed by the courts after failure to determine a particular offence.[68] Indeed a public prosecutor in the city of Udine has ruled that a prefect may not invalidate marriages agreed by municipal mayors, thus effectively annulling the order made by Alfano.[69] On 9 March 2015, the Regional Administrative Court of Lazio suspended the order made by Alfano because only civil courts, and not any prefecture, may annul the registration of same-sex marriages contracted abroad.[70] However, the court also found that overseas marriages could not be recognized in Italy because of the lack of domestic legislation.[71]

Alfano subsequently appealed to the Council of State, Italy's highest administrative court, which reversed the judgement; ruling that is within the role of prefectures to ensure all public acts are legal. Thus all registrations of same-sex marriages made abroad can not be recognised in Italy and must be cancelled.[72][73][74] Gay rights activists complained that one of the Catholic judges on the Council of State had already expressed his disapproval of gay marriage via Twitter and had therefore been impartial. They promised to take an appeal to the European Court of Human Rights if necessary for violating the Italian constitution.[75]

On 4 March 2015 the Sicilian Regional Assembly voted with 50 ayes, 5 nays and 15 abstained for the creation of a regional civil union register that could bring all the benefits which are up to the regional government to the couples that sign a civil union, whether homosexual or heterosexual. The law was particularly desired by Rosario Crocetta, the first openly gay President of Sicily. Liguria and Sicily are the only two regions with such a legislation.[76]

See also[edit]


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