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Last Updated: Thursday, 21 September 2006, 17:02 GMT 18:02 UK
Gay Italians defy Vatican power
By Charis Dunn-Chan

Pope Benedict XVI
The Pope opposes legal recognition of gay partnerships
Muslim fury at Pope Benedict XVI over his comments on Islam has overshadowed another sensitive issue involving the Vatican - the question of gay rights in Italy.

Gay marriage is already legal in several European countries, including traditionally Catholic Spain.

But the Pope has said gay marriage would "obscure the value and function of the legitimate family".

Italian rights activists say the Vatican - a state within a state - has used its power to block reforms it deems to be contrary to Catholic teaching.

They point to the Vatican's influence on a referendum on fertility last year. The call to ease Italy's strict fertility laws failed after the Church had urged voters to boycott it.

Vatican opposition

The Vatican is hostile to moves to give gay people civil marriage rights.

A 2003 Vatican document on the issue of cohabitation rights for gay couples says "those who would move from tolerance to the legitimisation of specific rights for cohabiting homosexual persons need to be reminded that the approval or legalisation of evil is something far different from the toleration of evil".

Gay couple Dario and Giuseppe
Dario and Giuseppe want the new government to deliver
In Rome not just gay Italians but also many religious heterosexuals see that stance as unnecessarily intolerant.

Naples bank director Dario Re and his accountant partner Giuseppe Archiletti said: "In Italy, gay rights are not an issue of right or left - it's about how much power the Vatican has over Italian politics".

"Before the June elections, the left coalition parties, the Coalizione di Sinistra, promised a review of cohabitation rights. Now it's a few months on and so we will have to wait and see."

A Communist Refoundation member of the Italian parliament, Vladimir Luxuria, is urging Romano Prodi's government to deliver on its promises.

"The declared influence of the Vatican in Italian politics contravenes Article Nine of the constitution," she said.

Rights campaigner

Vladimir entered politics on a gay rights platform.

Vladimir Luxuria, Italian MP
Vladimir Luxuria campaigns against anti-gay prejudice
She said that before the elections, all of the left bloc parties endorsed a document promising cohabitation rights for gay couples. She noted that centre-right parties had come on board - even the rightist Gianfranco Fini of the National Alliance.

But she warned that there may be some watering down of the policy, with moves to give individuals rights within cohabitation, rather than full partnership rights.

"It's a disgrace that at times of utmost distress in illness and death, gay partners find that families can use the law to exclude them from hospital visits, the graveside and inheritance," she said.

She is confident that cohabitation rights will be given to gay people during this parliament, but she is fighting for gay people to get a full civil ceremony, like in Spain.

She said anti-gay violence had increased in Italy, with 150 reported attacks on lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people this year. The figure was incomplete, she added, as not all people reported violence to the police, fearing their homosexuality could become public knowledge.

She said she had discussed the matter this month with Interior Minister Giuliano Amato and Justice Minister Clemente Mastella, who said they would work to insert an anti-violence clause in a law to combat discrimination against homosexuals.

"This is something new in Italy, a good achievement after the repeated warnings of the European Parliament to act in this way."

Gay struggle

Lorenzo Viola, an architect from Milan, says northern Italy has become more tolerant.

"Milan has become a peaceful island, due to the fact that the fashion, design, architecture, theatre and television industries are moved by gay people. I walk around with my partner just as I did in London and the reaction is pretty much the same."

Sabrina Quartullo, a Roman film editor, says that in Italy gay people are often uncomfortable telling their families about their sexuality.

She says her uncle Nazareno committed suicide a few years back at the age of 70 because he felt his family had never accepted his gay identity.

He hanged himself at home and left a note saying cari fratelli fateri un esame di conscienza - "brothers and sisters examine your consciences".

Vatican flexes muscle in Italy
13 Jun 05 |  Europe
Vatican condemns Spain gay bill
22 Apr 05 |  Europe
Italy bans donor sperm and eggs
11 Dec 03 |  Europe

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