Italy finally passes Civil Union law for gay couples.
It is difficult to describe the mix of emotions as I watched Italy become the last Western European country to provide some rights to same-sex couples this week. “Finalmente” was all I could think as my eyes welled up at the sight of happy couples and celebrations across the country and around the world.
For years, both here in the US and in Italy when visiting family, I was asked, “Why is it taking so long? The rest of Western Europe has marriage equality or at least civil unions, what is wrong with Italy?” As a proud Italian-American with deep roots in the country of my father and maternal great-grandmother’s birth, and also as a longtime gay activist, the question pained me.
The answer seems simple to some, who see Italy as a country with a vocal conservative political bent and religious and culturally antiquated core that is ruled by the Catholic Church. But that is not the Italy I know. It is not the Italy that has given us such rich, diverse art, culture and appreciation for love and beauty, a culture deeply rooted in family.
In some ways this fight mirrors similar contradictions and disconnects over other cultural issues like honest discussion of sexuality, reproductive rights, women’s rights and other issues that have tremendous public support and visibility but we still see the government (read: Vatican) playing a century long game of catch up. Maybe the new Pope is having an impact on things.
But for now let’s celebrate a step forward. The Italian government, under the leadership of Prime Minister Matteo Renzi, who understands the present and the future and who values and respects diversity, has led us into the 21st century.
Rosa Perruci, a friend and activist in Puglia, affiliated with Arcilesbica Meditterranea Bari, said this to me when the news broke: “Today is a very important day for so many gays and lesbians. Today is a decisive day that has come after 30 years of activism, fighting with politicians, to recognize that LGBT Italians exist, we are part of your families and we have our own families. Even if for me this seems anti-climactic and late given the progress in the rest of Europe and the world, I will celebrate because today we all live in a better Italy. There is much more to do but this is a big step forward.”
Rosa could not be more correct. Italy is a better place today. Not only because the lives of gay couples now protected, so are the lives of the thousands of children being raised by same-sex couples. This argument, in fact, was critical in persuading the Supreme Court of the United States to make marriage equality the law of the land.
I vividly remember the day the Supreme Court released their decision in the Obergefell marriage equality case in 2015, once and for all making marriage equality a reality across America. Social media turned into an avalanche of rainbow graphics and the White House and major landmarks around the world lit up in rainbow colors. But the most meaningful rainbow for me was when my young cousin in Italy changed her Facebook profile page to her beautiful smiling face with a rainbow background. She has only known a world where gay people are respected and part of her family and their circle of friends. She was taught the values of love and respect by her parents and my paternal family in Southern Italy. I could not have been more proud of her or my family, who have always loved and supported me unconditionally.
It is for her generation that Italy will be an even better place for all, gay or straight, and only get better as gay couples have their relationships recognized, their children protected and it is safer to come out and live a full and honest life.
So this week, it was – finally – the Fountain of Trevi and the Coliseum that were lit in rainbow colors, to the cheers and tears of so many Italian LGBT people and their families. Social media lit up in Italian and English.
Laura Pausini said it best in a tweet, that she had a “new reason to be proud to be Italian.” Davvero, Laura, davvero. I too am certainly a more proud Italian-American today. More importantly, more Italian families are one step closer to being treated equally and having the protections they deserve.
This article first appeared on iitaly.org
Cathy Renna is managing partner at targetcue.com, an LGBT and HIV-focused communications firm.