Italy finally approves civil unions – but already there is opposition

May 17, 2016 OPINION/NEWS

(It is time to be “civilized” #WakeUpItaly)


Aurora M. Granata

May 2016: Italy approved Civil Unions After Thirty Years of Struggle. But Someone Is Already Asking for a Referendum to Abolish Them.

Finally, after thirty years of struggles on the part of some Italian associations, the Italian government officially approved on May 11, 2016 the Law On Civil Unions (Decreto di Legge Cirinnà) with 369 votes for, 193 vote against and 2 abstained.[1]

It has been a long journey since a first proposal to take into consideration the issue was submitted to Parliament in 1986 and, two years later, the lawyer Agata Alma Cappiello presented a Bill which would have the task to discipline the so called “de facto families” (famiglie di fatto), that is a situation where two partners choose to live and act like a real family without the formal acknowledgement of a State or a religious institution, usually achieved through a formal marriage. However, even if through the years the European Parliament and the European Union expressly demanded Italy adjust this breach of human rights, the Bill never passed. This was mostly due to the interferences of the right conservative parties supported by the Catholic Church and its Catholic associations. But, what is a Civil Union broadly speaking? It is usually considered the juridicial institution which governs same-sex relationships before the law, giving them equal weight to the one of traditional marriage.

On July 21, 2015 the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) denounced the Italian government for the violation of Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights, that is the right to respect private and family life.[2] I will quote the passage of the sentence related to it, that is “in previous cases, the Court had already found that the relationship of a cohabitating same-sex couple living in a stable de facto partnership fell within the notion of “family life” within the meaning of Article 8. It had also acknowledged that same-sex couples were in need of legal recognition and protection of their relationship. That need had moreover been underlined in recommendations by the Parliamentary Assembly and the Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe, inviting member States to consider providing same-sex couples with some form of legal recognition”.[3] Thanks to the judgment on the case Oliari and Others v. Italy,[4] in which three Italian homosexual couples were denied the right to marry in front of the Italian legislation in the Trent Commune Civil Status Office, the Italian politicians had been forced to start a discussion about this problem. Those couples raised an accusation of constitutional illegitimacy linked to the violation of Art. 2 of the Italian Constitution, the right to self-determination of marital choices; Art. 3 of the Italian Constitution, referred to the violation of social dignity of fixed homosexual couples; Art. 12 and 14 of the ECHR on the prohibition to discriminate people on the basis of sexuality and Art. 22 on the restriction on public civil rights to homosexual couples.[5]

So, thanks to the courage of those Italian citizens, the national government started to take into consideration the claims of the LGBT and Atheist exponents. The one who pushed the Italian Parliament to consider those demands was Monica Cirinnà, Senator of the Italian Democratic Party, politicians and Law graduate.[6] She struggled to make her Bill accepted by the different political parties and finally, after a first rejection occurred on February 2016,[7] the Bill was accepted. Now, let’s analyze in more detail the major contents of the Italian Law on Civil Unions, which is not only addressed to homosexual marriage, but it is aimed also at regulating the coexistence of heterosexual couples who are against traditional marriage.[8] Basically, it is possible to summarize the Law in the following key points:[9]


  1. The Union will be legalized in front of a registrar with the compelling presence of two witnesses, and it will be transcript on the council register.

  2. The Union could not be celebrated in the following cases: if one of the parties is already or still married, if he/she is a minor (except for the presence of a legal authorization), if he/she has been diagnosed with mental disease, if they are relatives or if one of them has been condemned for murder or attempted murder.

  3. Legal Framework: the articles related to the institution of the Civil Marriage will be applied also for the Civil Unions in order to coordinate the right and the duties of the parties, the location of the legal residence, domestic abuses, interdiction and dissolution of the contract. Moreover, the couple will be free to legalize a marital agreement in front of a solicitor’s clerk.

  4. Mutual Assistance: the couple will enjoy in front of the State of some basic rights like health service, legal penal assistance, division of property and in community of property, succession on house renting, reversibility of retirement benefits of the partner and the duties enforced by law on married couples. But, there is no duty to mutual loyalty. Plus, a partner could now legally design his/her partner as legal tutor in case of illness, death or reclusion.

  5. Dissolution of the Union: the Italian legislation on divorce will apply. However, it will not be mandatory to pass through the process of separation, as it is prescribed for the Civil Marriage. The amount of marital allowance, permitted by this law, will be ruled on amount and time by a judge and it will be conceded to the weakest part who cannot be able to supply for himself/herself.

  6. The Family Name: the parts could decide together the surname the other partner and the children could adopt.

  7. Step-Child Adoption: technically it is not regulated under this law. However, it concedes the right to every tribunal to permit child adoption to a homosexual couple after taking into consideration the single case. Some Italian judges have already sentenced on the matter, conceding the adoption to some homosexual couples even before the formal adoption of the Law.[10]


As I already anticipated at the beginning of the article, this law encountered a lot of difficulties on the part of some conservative parties and associations supported, directly or indirectly, by the Catholic Church. Indeed, sometimes these movements pledged they were not supported by a religious ideology, like the most important one called Standing Sentinels (a literal traduction of “Sentinelle in Piedi”), whose members normally decide to meet on a precise day in the square of a particular city, to manifest against the right to the Civil Unions standing silently with a book in their hands. They try to propose a sort of different form of civil disobedience, declaring they do not manifest against the rights of the LGBT and Atheist communities, but they ask for the respect of their right to formally keep the institution of the family in a traditional way. In other words, they want to the whole community to respect the natural institution of the family that is composed by a male, a female and their natural children. On January 30, 2016 they organized a “Family Day” where political and religious speakers talked against Civil Unions. Their most concerning fears are related to the possibility that the Law could open to the legalization of other threatening subjects, that are still illegal in Italy, like the stepchild adoption, surrogate motherseuthanasia and even the legalization of prostitution, drugs and pedophilia. The last one is supposed to be a sort of provocative statement, but the sentinels do really believe that this degeneration will happen.

They support their campaign with the idea that they do not want Civil Unions to be equal to the Institution of Traditional Marriage, since this situation, and I will try to translate literally from their Italian article published on May 14, 2016, “ennobles the homosexual way of being, removing it from the private dimension where it was always meant to be, since only the conjugal union represents the core of our society.”.[11] In their vision Civil Unions undermine the essence of male and female identities and consequently familial and sexual relations, demolishing inevitably the entire society.[12] Moreover, they sustain that the Law distorts the concept of marriage, invented to guarantee the procreation of the human being, weakening society and its natural evolution.[13] The members of the movement sustain they are just representing publicly their right to freedom of opinion and freedom of speech, rejecting every accusation of homophobia.[14] In addition, some of their exponents oppose the implementation of an Italian Law against Homophobic Hate Crimes,[15] which still does not exist, and they also manifest against the moral integrity of abortion, legalized in Italy in 1978 through Law 194 (DDL 194). They recently declared that with the adoption of the Law on Civil Unions the institution of democracy was not respected, the dialogue was cut and that in Italy we are now living under a dictatorship.

So, they want to propose a referendum, a call to vote for all Italian citizens, to abolish the new law. The actual political leader of the right-wing party Lega Nord, Matteo Salvini, encouraged every Mayor of its party to formally deny the celebration of Civil Unions in their municipalities.[16] The Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi replied to the conservative wing that accused him to have given the vote of confidence to an immoral Law, that he pledged loyalty to the Italian Constitution, not to the Gospel, since Italy is a secular democracy not a religious one.

I have to admit that some of the points raised by the conservatives do really ring a bell. It is true that naturally two men and two women cannot procreate and that historically the roots of the human race were intertwined with religious conception. This does make a lot of sense at first thought. However, similar oppositions, which relied on a sort of natural order, were also used in the past to justify slavery, racism, child marriage and gender oppression. During the past decades, when the structure of traditional society was still functioning, humanity experienced a lot of atrocities which went from Inquisitions to Genocide. Does it really make sense to insist on an archaic view of society when it does not really represent an example of absolute virtue?

The contemporary society certainly is not perfect, since every day we need to face corruption, crime, violence, poverty and confusion, but we live in an age where, for instance, European countries do not declare war on each other, permitting its populations to enjoy freedom and prosperity. Homosexual marriage is not the reason for the increased percentages in divorce and immorality, so we should stop arguing about that and concentrate on more important things.



[1] Rai News, VOTO ALLA CAMERA UNIONI CIVILI, IL GOVERNO INCASSA LA FIDUCIA DELLA CAMERA CON 369 SÌ E 193 NO Voto finale sul provvedimento atteso in serata. La Camera vota la fiducia al governo sulle unioni civili: 369 voti a favore, 193 contrari e due astenuti, 11 Maggio 2016,

[2] European Court of Human Rights, Press Release issued by the Registrar of the Court, ECHR 254 (2015), Italy should introduce possibility of legal recognition for same-sex couples, July 21, 2015.

[3] Ibidem.

[4] European Court of Human Rights, CASE OF OLIARI AND OTHERS v. ITALY, Judgment (Merits and Just Satisfaction),   Court (Fourth Section), July 21, 2015,{“itemid”:[“001-156265”]}.

[5] G. Vassallo, Altalex, Unioni omosessuali, Cedu: l’Italia deve riconoscerle e tutelarle, Corte Europea Diritti dell’Uomo, sez. IV, sentenza 21/07/2015, September 24, 2015,

[6] M. Cirinnà, Mi presento,

[7] Rai News, Politica, UNIONI CIVILI, RESPINTA LA PRIMA RICHIESTA DI VOTO SEGRETO Salta nuovo incontro Pd-Fi-Lega su emendamenti. E’ probabile che oggi non si arrivi al voto sugli emendamenti, 10 Febbraio 2016,

[8] M. Esposito, Ansa Italia Politica, Unioni civili, l’abc della legge: ecco di cosa stiamo parlando. Per le coppie gay il riferimento alla “vita familiare”, per quelle eterosessuali arrivano le “convivenze di fatto”, 11 Maggio 2016,

[9] Ansa, op. cit.

[10] Redazione Roma, Corriere della Sera, Stepchild adoption, nuova sentenza. Tre bambini avranno due mamme, 29 Aprile 2016,

[11] Sentinelle in Piedi, Press, In piedi contro la legge sulle “Unioni Civili”. Come sempre in piazza per difendere la famiglia. Comunicato del 14 Aprile 2016, 14 Aprile 2016,

[12] Ivi.

[13] Ivi.

[14] Ivi.

[15] Notizie ProVita, Appello al Santo Padre: fermare la legge anti-omofobia,

[16] TG Com 24, Politica, Unioni civili, Lega e mondo cattolico sulle barricate: “Sindaci disobbediscano”. Da Matteoli a Sacconi pronti a chiedere il referendum abrogativo sulla legge Cirinnà. Il M5S si è inaspettatamente astenuto al voto, 11 Maggio 2016,





Aurora M. Granata

I am Aurora Martina Granata, an Italian graduate in International Relations at the Ca’ Foscari University of Venice. In 2015 I had some international experiences that permitted me to open my mind significantly. Firstly, I attented the Harvard National Model United Nations 2015 as a member of the General Assembly Legal Committee which discussed about International Terrorism. Secondly, thanks to the Erasmus+ Programme, I had the possibility to see from the inside the work of a little Not-for-Profit organization in the United Kingdom for three months. I describe myself as an empowered and dynamic young woman who wants to make a difference by raising her voice. I struggle to raise the respect of human rights and gender equality.


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