Will same sex marriage ever be possible in Italy?

They're both Catholic countries - so what's Ireland doing that Italy isn't?



This year is the fortieth anniversary of Pier Paolo Pasolini’s death. The renowned Italian film director, who was openly gay, would be impressed by the progress being made internationally by pro-gay marriage activists.

In Ireland a referendum sanctioned the imaginable: at the end of May the country was the first to approve same-sex marriage by popular vote.

But could such a formal step forward ever be conceivable south of the Alps, in the only part of western Europe where gay partnerships are not acknowledged in any way?

What has happened in Irish society that is not happening in Italy?

There’s no denying that Catholicism is still a major part of Italian life. The recent sentinelle in piedi phenomenon sees Catholic activists periodically gather up and down the country, silently protesting against Italy’s supposed indifference towards Church values.

Due to its proximity to the Vatican state, Italy is in many ways treated as its back garden – the little theocracy holds enormous moral and ethical clout over Italy.

Effectively dissuading Italy from pursuing similar goals, Cardinal Pietro Parolin, the Vatican’s sombre secretary of state, made a dark remark about the Irish referendum:

“The church must […] strengthen its commitment to evangelisation. […] You can’t just talk of a defeat of Christian principles; [this is] a defeat for humanity.”

You could speculate that Ireland has managed to partially eschew such pressures, possibly thanks to its many ties to same-language societies offering more liberal views.

But what’s equally disconcerting is that Catholic leaders in central Europe also seem to be in denial about the way that society is changing.

Dwindling numbers of church-goers ought to be seen as a reminder that societies do move on. Certain research fields would interpret that as meaningful enough to inform new policy.

But not the Church, which still expects to shape society and not the other way round. Swiss Catholic bishop Jean-Marie Lovey recently told the Neue Zürcher Zeitung  that ‘marriage is for man and woman only’.

Whether to allow same-sex marriages is also a politically sensitive issue. Germany’s conservative Christian Democratic Union (CDU) has already said no to an Irish-style referendum.

Volker Kauder, a CDU parliamentary group leader, categorically rejected both marriage and full adoption rights for gay couples:

“Marriage represents the union of a man and a woman, just like the German constitution says.”

Meanwhile the Left, the Greens and most of the Social Democratic Party advocate total equality.

Catholic Austria has a similar split. In May, Social Democratic Party bigwig Andreas Schieder said on national radio that ‘it’s high time to rethink. Everyone should be able to live as they wish.’ Policies must be adapted to the social reality, he added.

The Greens and New Austria party have also been very vocal in their support of gay marriage.

But centre-right Austrian People’s Party leader Reinhold Lopatka refused to take part in the interview. His stance, according to a spokesman, is that current laws are enough.

Only the wider Left seems to have an interest in a more liberal society, propelled by the younger generation: in Ireland the surge of young voters brought the referendum’s turnout into the top five since 1937.

So will a referendum in Italy on same-sex marriage ever materialize? I’d guess there’s still a way to go. Sadly, forty years after Pasolini died in dramatic circumstances linked to his homosexuality, some parts of Europe are still dominated by conservative voices.

Alessio Colonnelli also contributes to openDemocracy, Shifting Grounds and Euro Crisis/LSE. He holds a combined B.A./M.A. in languages and literary translation from Padua University

14 Responses to “Will same sex marriage ever be possible in Italy?”

  1. damon

    A lot of people in Ireland voted for gay marriage to make themselves feel better as a country and to be seen to be doing the right thing. They’ve had a bit of a chip on their shoulders from a long time, and this was a way of showing the old racist stereotypes no longer held sway.
    Italy shouldn’t do it if the people don’t want to.

  2. John Christopher sunol

    If italy ever accepts same sex marriage in the catholic chuch these thugs from the marriage equality will force this abominable act on all churches where is freedom of speech to reject such issues it is gone in the name of equality and this is not freedom that is a homosexual dictatorship on all similar to the roman empiror nero from 54ad to 68ad

  3. John Christopher sunol

    Just read my blog on this issur http://www.johnsunol.blogspot.com.au

  4. John Christopher sunol

    People in ireland were conned in by homosexul thugs using properganda and lies as a weapon

  5. Charles Dumas

    In my country, the Netherlands, where same sex marriage was introduced in 2001, gays can marry in every church, except the Catholics ones. There is no one forcing our churches to do so. They took the initiative themselves. The first gay marriages were already performed in some of our protestant churches in 1986, 15 years before is was legal for the law. And in our catholic churches gays can also marry, only it is called a ‘blessing of their relationship’ and not a marriage, because Rome doesn’t allow that. So, in my country there are no ‘thugs from the marriage equality that are forcing same sex marriages on churches’; our churches choose for it themselves. I suppose Dutch churches (and Dutch religious people) are not as hateful as the ones you refer to.

  6. Keith M

    Strange how the Catholic Church and the right agree on so much. The church was fully behind the fascist dictatorships in Italy and spain, pity they lack charity.

  7. Keith M

    Please grow up.


    The very existence of the Catholic Church has been based on them interferring in every aspect of peoples lives. As this interference is continually challenged they will fight back. What the Irish will probably notice is that nothing much has changed since the vote and the same old struggles in life go on. Well done the Irish for at least throwing one yowk of their backs.


    Are you scared of the bogey man?

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  12. Mickey L

    Spain approved gay marriage in 2005. It is a very open minded country in gay rights

  13. Keith M

    It certainly did, but there was massive opposition from the Catholic Church.

  14. Rustycat

    Viva Italia!!!!!!

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