“In France, I can get married – when can I do so in Italy?” read many of the banners brandished at last Saturday’s Gay Pride demonstrations.
It’s a question that has risen up the agenda since the French government legalized gay marriage in May.
Gay marriage may not be about to become legal any time soon, but Italian attitudes are slowly changing. This year’s Gay Pride, for instance, was an important milestone for the gay rights movement in Italy.
For a start, it was significant that the national march was held in Palermo in the southern Italian island of Sicily.
“It was a big step because it was the first time that a city in southern Italy had been chosen to host the national event,” Vincenzo Branà, journalist and President of Arcigay Cassero, the Bologna branch of Italy’s largest national gay rights association, tells The Local. “And this goes against the traditional conception of the south as being backward.”
There were also two very prestigious guests at the march. For the first time in Italian history, two government ministers – Laura Boldrini, President of the Italian Senate, and Josefa Idem, Italy’s Minister for Equal Opportunities and Sport – attended the march.
However, the decision of one political figure not to attend the event was noted by Italy’s gay community. Citing a desire to spend the day with his “family”, Rome’s newly elected Mayor, Ignazio Marino, turned down an invitation to attend Rome Gay Pride.
“It was a big step backwards and a great disappointment – not so much for the fact he turned the invitation down as for the reason he gave,” says Branà. "Contrasting the theme of the family with Gay Pride was equivalent to endorsing Catholic rhetoric about the family.”
“It underlined the fact that we are not a family – or at least that was the immediate impression that we got from the message. In fact, we go to Gay Pride with our families; we don’t leave them at home. We would have loved it if the Mayor had participated with his whole family.
“Gay pride is not just an identity festival for individuals – it’s also for families.”
Is he optimistic that Prime Minister Enrico Letta’s coalition government will change anything?
“We [Arcigay] are not at all in favour of a government composed of both the Left and the Right because this means making compromises with the Right – which is often Catholic and always puts forward arguments against us.
“Proposals have been put forward by the Left – and even the Centre-Right – for laws against homophobia and in favour of same-sex unions. This is nothing new: in Italy, laws are always being proposed but then never discussed or voted upon.”
Despite previously stating that his government would aim to last 18 months, the Prime Minister has since announced that the government could now last up to five years.
“It’s bad news for us because, for reasons of compromise, the present government could not permit a change in the law,” says Branà.
Another problem, he says, “is something we call ‘benaltrismo’. What this means is that, as soon as the government start talking about gay rights, they say: 'There are other more important problems' – such as the financial crisis and unemployment."
Is there any possibility at all that same-sex marriage could be legalized under the current government?
“Our only hope is in the numbers. A substantial proportion of this parliament is from Grillo’s party [the Five Star Movement] which has – at least verbally – supported the possibility of gay marriage in Italy.”
Quite apart from the question of gay marriage, one of the biggest problems that Italy’s gay community faces is the problem of homophobia.
At the moment, the law that comes closest to condemning homophobia as a crime is the ‘Legge Mancino’, passed in 1993, which condemns the incitement of violence and discrimination for racial, ethnic, religious or national reasons.
There are therefore no official statistics for the number of homophobic (or anti-transsexual) incidents, says Branà, who claims the number is high – particularly as many people are hesitant to report such crimes.
“There are also many suicides, where young people leave notes that suggest their suicide was linked to homophobia,” he says.
Despite all this, Branà and his colleagues remain cautiously hopeful.
“During the [local] election campaign, I participated in a Left-wing public debate attended by people of all ages. Normally, older people in their 50s and 60s – even on the Left – are considered hostile and traditionalist when it comes to gay rights, but I have certainly discovered this isn’t necessarily true,” says Branà.
This Saturday (June 22nd), Branà, along with colleagues in Milan, Bologna, Naples, Catania and Sardinia, will be marching at Onda Pride – a continuation of Gay Pride.
“We want Gay Pride to become not just an isolated event, but to spread all over the country,” he says.