Italy rejects new law to protect the disabled, women and the LGBT sector

In a secret ballot, Italy’s parliamentarians voted to reject the proposed new law to strengthen the existing laws to protect the disabled, women and the LGBT sector from physical attack.

The new law was proposed due to public outcry in response to a serious attack on a gay couple.  However, the right-wing politicians ruled the day and the new law was rejected.

The Vatican had previously spoken out fearing that such a law would infringe the Catholic church’s “freedom of thought” and concerns that the law would create a situation where the Catholic church could be caught by the law for refusal to perform gay marriages, been legal since 2016, and refusing to teach gender issues in schools.

One of the most disappointing aspects of the whole situation is the reaction of the far-right parliamentarians when the vote to reject was announced.

Italy’s 315-member Senate took a significant step back this week when a Disegno Di Legge (DDL), (the equivalent to a bill in UK parliamentary proceedings) aimed at hate crime, introduced and championed by the Democratic party’s Alessandro Zan, was blocked by a 154 to 131 majority, despite being approved by Italy’s lower house.

The DDL was intended to extend Italy’s existing penal code provisions to include the categories relating to the highly controversial gender, disability and the LGBT sector.  Effectively criminalising homophobic attacks as well as attacks on the disabled and on women.

In June last year, the Vatican took the unprecedented step of appealing to the Italian government in respect of the proposed change in the law to protect vulnerable groups from physical attack, saying there was concern that such a law would infringe the Catholic church’s “freedom of thought”.  The Vatican’s unheard of actions supported the parties of the far right’s contention that such a law would suppress freedom of expression and promote homosexual propaganda in schools.  It was also suggested that there could be a criminal impact on the Catholic church for refusal to perform gay marriages, which have been legal since 2016, and refusing to teach gender issues in schools, despite the fact that it was repeatedly reaffirmed that the DDL only related to violent hate crimes and would not impinge on freedom of speech.

The defeat for the DDL Zan, as the bill is known, was achieved by employing a tactic known as “tagliola” which has the effect of preventing discussion, allowing anonymous voting, which effectively becomes a secret ballot.  The President of the Senate sanctioned the anonymous vote, which ensures that it is impossible to know how the parliamentarians voted.  Perhaps the most disappointing aspect to the entire issue was the jubilant behaviour of Matteo Salvini’s far-right League and Brothers of Italy, led by Giorgia Meloni when the vote was announced, which has been widely criticised as both inappropriate and retrospective, leading the country back to a bygone era of intolerance.

Previous attempts by governments to introduce similar laws have been correspondingly suppressed for over 30 years.  The Senate and the right-wing political parties, League, Forza Italia, Brothers of Italy and Us with Italy may find that they are out of step with the perceptions and the reality of Italian society,  as the LGBT sector becomes more visible and continues to demand rights.  The belief, still held in some quarters, that granting parity and protective rights to the LGBT sector will in some way corrupt young children and impressionable adults persuading them to be gay. 

Such flawed thinking has, for the time being, won the day and will almost certainly result in a rise in physical attacks on the LGBT sector and the other vulnerable groups that the DDL was designed to protect.  The situation has attracted condemnation from both inside and outside Italy, as well as polarising the political parties in Italy. In future, there may be cause to regret the questionable tactics used to defeat DDL aimed at protecting some of the most defenceless members of society.

Giambrone & Partners’ LGBT division offers support and legal guidance to all elements of the LGBT sector and will actively pursue individuals involved in homophobic attacks as well as any such behaviour visited upon the disabled and on vulnerable women, through all the legal means available.

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