Title: When in Rome...? (or Athens) Credit: Craig Young Comment Sunday 31st January 2016 - 2:58pm1454205480 Article: 17843 Rights
Trailing the rest of Western Europe, Italy is once again embarking on the torturous route to civil unions and relationship equality, several months after the second to last holdout, Greece, legislated for relationship equality. What is life like for LGBT Greeks and Italians? After the global economic crisis, Italy and Greece are heavily indebted to the rest of the European Union, particularly Germany, its powerhouse. For that matter, though, the European Court of Human Rights has put its foot down with the two formerly recalcitrant states, requesting that they enact civil unions/registered partnerships and statutory relationship equality legislation. In the case of Greece, male homosexuality was decriminalised over sixty years ago (1951). It took longer for an end to military service discrimination (2002), lesbian/gay inclusive anti-discrimination laws (2005), age of consent equality (2015), an end to gender identity discrimination (2014), and more recently, the passage of civil union and relationship equality legislation (2015) under the leftist Syriza-led coalition. The Greek Orthodox Church and neofascist "Golden Dawn" frequently make ugly and hyperbolic antigay and transphobic statements, but with the advent of its civil union and relationship equality legislation, Greece is on a par with the central European nations of Germany and Switzerland insofar as LGBT human rights and civil liberties are concerned, which is more than can be said for many of its Southeastern European neighbours, with the exception of Croatia and Slovenia. How did civil unions arrive in Greece? For much of the last decade, there was bipartisan obstruction when it came to LGBT relationship equality. The centre-right New Democracy Party was opposed to relationship equality per se until it was defeated in 2009. Its successor, the Pan-Hellenic Socialist Movement (PASOK) released a registered partnerships proposal similar to France's former PaCs model, which didn't even grant full statutory relationship equality, in 2006. While PASOK was providing public hearings for this inferior model of relationship (in)equality, several fed-up Greek LGBT couples had taken the country to the European Court of Human Rights to force the issue. There were protracted preparations for registered partnerships until the European Court of Human Rights released its critical report, in 2013. As a consequence of dissatisfaction with its mishandling of the European debt crisis after 2008, PASOK was defeated in that year's election, to be replaced by the anti-austerity centre-left Syriza party. After Syriza's election victory, things accelerated considerably. The new government acted on the cohabitation agreement recommendations that New Democracy and PASOK had sat upon, introduced legislation to the Greek Parliament in December 2015 after a period of public consultation and on December 24 2015, it passed its parliamentary vote 193-56. It's a shame that Orthodox Christmas is celebrated later than its Catholic and Protestant counterpart, otherwise this would have been an ideal gift. Like our own Civil Union Act 2004 and Relationships (Statutory Amendments) Act 2005 did for us in New Zealand, the legislation provides almost complete statutory relationship equality, apart from inclusive adoption reform. Again, as with Greece, Italy considerably preceded much of the rest of the western world when it came to decriminalisation of male homosexuality, which occurred as long ago as 1890, with an equal age of consent instituted at about the same time-fourteen! It was also an early adopter of military service equality- homosexuality and lesbianism were ignored as 'disqualifying' factors within the Italian armed forces back in 1947. Unfortunately, thereafter, the deadening influence of the Roman Catholic Church on the dominant centre-right Christian Democratic Party and puritanical social conservatism within the Communist Party of Italy, heavily influenced by Soviet Stalinism, didn't help prospects of further LGBT legislative reform. For example, Italy only adopted antidiscrimination legislation that covers sexual orientation as late as 2003, after one of the national Berlusconi administrations challenged the progressive regional Tuscany government in 2002 after it had passed more comprehensive sexual orientation anti-discrimination legislation. It lost in the courts, although they upheld the Berlusconi administration's objections to accomodation discrimination, so Italy's antidiscrimination laws only cover employment discrimination, despite attempts to expand it to include accomodation and goods and service provision ever since, as well as adding gender identity to its antidiscrimination categories. In 2013, the Italian government outlawed anti-transgender and antigay hate speech. As for relationship equality, the path has been a long and arduous one for Italy's LGBT communities. Since centre-left administrations govern many Italian regions, their local authorities have passed registered partnership compromise legislation that provide LGBT couples with rights such as property, social security status and inheritance, but not others- Tuscany, Emilia-Romagna, Campania, Marche, Veneto, Apulia, Lazio, Liguria, Abruzzo and Sicily. Italy's highly fragmented political system has meant that social conservative elements on the political centre-left and centre-right have been able to obstruct more meaningful civil union legislation at the level of the national legislature. In 2007, Romano Prodi's centre-left socialist government made gestures toward a national version of registered partnership compromise legislation, which would only have produced parity in employment law, inheritance, taxation and healthcare for LGBT couples, but in the end, nothing was accomplished. In July 2015, the European Court of Human Rights intervened again as it had done for Greece in 2013, finding that six LGBT couple plaintiffs were entitled to full relationship equality. Although the ECHR decision had no legislative effect, the Constitutional Court and Court of Cassation granted particular relationship recognition rights to some LGBT couples under specific circumstances. Finally, in June 2015, the current Chamber of Deputies passed a motion declaring its support for civil unions and in December 2015, they were finally up for debate in the Italian Senate, its parliamentary upper house. It is widely expected to be passed, although Italian LGBT organisations fear that there will be 'wrecking amendments' from antigay centre-right and right-wing senators. Craig Young - 31st January 2016    
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