Zan bill: Italy’s senate blocks anti-homophobia law

The Italian Senate on Wednesday voted down a proposed law against homophobia which faced vehement opposition from right-wing parties and the Vatican.

People hold a banner reading
People hold a banner reading "Zan law now!" at the annual Pride March in Rome, on June 26th, 2021. Photo: Tiziana FABI/AFP

The law, known as the ‘ddl Zan’, sought to punish acts of discrimination and incitement to violence against gay, lesbian, transgender and disabled people.

It was proposed in May 2018 by Alessandro Zan, a member of parliament from the centre-left Democratic Party, in response to what he called an “exponential rise in the number and seriousness of acts of violence towards gay and transgender people”.

READ ALSO: What is Italy’s proposed anti-homophobia law and why is it controversial?

Critics of the law said it risked endangering freedom of expression and would have paved the way for “homosexual propaganda” in schools.

In a 154-131 vote called by the far-right League and Brothers of Italy parties, the upper house agreed to block its passage through parliament after it was approved last November by the lower house.

The vote was secret, meaning that lawmakers did not have to publicly declare their position, allowing several of them to defy their party’s line.

The outcome is a “betrayal of a political pact that wanted the country to take a step towards civilisation”, Zan wrote on Twitter.

In June, the Vatican took the unprecedented step of lodging a formal diplomatic complaint against the law, saying it breached the Concordat, the bilateral treaty between Italy and the Holy See.

Notably, the Vatican was concerned that under the homophobia law, Catholics risked prosecution for expressing opinions in favour of traditional heterosexual family structures. 

In response, Prime Minister Mario Draghi said parliament was “free” to legislate on the issue, as Italy “is a secular state, not a confessional state”.

READ ALSO: Italy ranked ‘one of the worst countries in Western Europe for gay rights’

In July, Zan’s centre-left Democratic Party (PD) rejected calls from centrists and those on the right to water down the contents of the bill in a bid to seek bipartisan support.

According to League party leader Matteo Salvini, the PD and the Five Star Movement – which  also supported the bill – were defeated for their “arrogance”.

“They said no to all compromise proposals, including those proposed by the Holy Father (Pope Francis), by associations and by many families,” Salvini said.

In Italy, a predominantly Catholic country that is also home to the Vatican, legislation on LGBT issues is particularly sensitive.

However, a poll in July suggested the law had popular backing, with 62 percent of Italians in favour of the reform.

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Italy’s government to continue sending weapons to Ukraine in 2023

Italy's new government issued a decree on Thursday to continue sending weapons to Ukraine through 2023, continuing the previous administration's policy of support to Kyiv.

Italy's government to continue sending weapons to Ukraine in 2023

The decree extends to December 31, 2023 an existing authorisation for “the transfer of military means, materials and equipment to the government authorities of Ukraine,” according to a government statement.

Since taking office in October, Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni has repeatedly voiced her support for Kyiv while underlying the importance of the Atlantic alliance.

In her first speech to parliament, the leader of the Brothers of Italy party pledged to “continue to be a reliable partner of NATO in supporting Ukraine.”

Her predecessor Mario Draghi was a staunch supporter of Kyiv, but the issue of sending arms to Ukraine split the biggest party in parliament during his coalition government, the Five Star Movement.

That friction led to the early elections that brought Meloni to power.

Parliament now has 60 days to vote the decree into law.

READ ALSO: Outcry in Italy after Berlusconi defends Putin’s invasion of Ukraine

Despite Meloni’s efforts to reassure her Western allies of Italy’s support for the EU’s and NATO’s Ukraine strategy, including sanctions on Russia, the close ties to Russia of her two coalition partners have come under scrutiny.

Both Matteo Salvini of the League party and former premier Silvio Berlusconi, who leads Forza Italia, have long enjoyed warm relations with Russia.

In October, an audio tape of Berlusconi was leaked to the media in which the former premier described how he had received a birthday present of vodka from Russian President Vladimir Putin.

In the tape, he also expressed concerns about sending weapons and cash to Kyiv and appeared to blame the war on Ukraine’s president, Volodymyr Zelensky.

Berlusconi later issued a statement saying his personal position on Ukraine “does not deviate” from that of Italy and the EU.

Since the beginning of the war in Ukraine, Salvini, too, has come under fire for his relations with Moscow, including a report that he dined with Russia’s ambassador to Rome just days after that country’s invasion of Ukraine.

Salvini, who has criticised EU sanctions as ineffective, has long admired Putin, even wearing T-shirts emblazoned with the Russian leader’s face.