'We're next' says Italy after Irish gay marriage vote
Positive reaction to overturning of Catholic church's hold on Ireland may have knock-on effect elsewhere
24 May 2015
Ireland's historic vote in favour of same sex marriage reverberated across Italy on Sunday, as Prime Minister Matteo Renzi's lieutenants came out in force to call for fast-track passage of a stymied civil partnership law.
Socially conservative Italy now is the only Western European country that does not recognize either same sex marriage or civil unions. But that the Irish referendum garnered an unexpectedly strong 62 per cent "Yes" vote in such a deeply Catholic country rallied backers of the Italian law, which has been languishing in parliament for months.
Several editorials on Sunday suggested that such a referendum in Italy would have a similar outcome, recalling the divorce referendum in 1974, when 60 percent of Italian voters went against the wishes of the Catholic church on a major social issue.
La Repubblica reported Mr Renzi confided privately that in the wake of the Ireland vote the question of civil unions in Italy can no longer be put off. Many of his key cabinet members and key party allies spoke out in favor of swift passage of the proposed legislation.
Roberto Speranza said it was now Italy's turn (AFP/Getty)
"What joy," said Roberto Speranza, leader of Mr Renzi's centre-left Democratic Party of the result. "Now it is Italy's turn." "The moment has arrived, finally, to approve this before the summer's end," said Democratic Senator Andrea Marcucci.
"Ireland is giving us a lesson in civility," said gay Italian politician Nichi Vendola, president of the Apulia region since 2005.
Laura Boldrini, speaker of the Italian Chamber of Deputies, said Ireland was giving Italy a much-needed push forward. "It is time that Italy has a civil unions law," Ms. Boldrini said on Twitter. "To be European means to recognize rights."
The crowd in Dublin celebrates the referendum result on Saturday (EPA)
Ireland is the 13th EU country to recognize gay marriage. Many countries, such as Germany, allow civil partnerships but are yet to allow marriage, while Cyprus, Greece and most of Eastern Europe do not recognize any form of same sex union.
The vote in Ireland crowned a dramatic shift in public attitudes towards homosexuality and a wide range of other social issues as the Roman Catholic church's once-firm grip on the country weakens.
There was soul-searching in churches across the country after the vote in favour of changing the 1937 constitution specifically to allow same-sex marriage was declared passed, with a vote of 62.1 per cent in favour, on Saturday.
Archbishop Diarmuid Martin says there's a "growing gap between Irish young people and the Church" (AFP/Getty)
The Archbishop of Dublin, Diarmuid Martin, described the vote against church teaching on gay marriage as "overwhelming" and said Catholic leaders needed "urgently" to find a new way to speak to the country's young.
"It's a social revolution," he said. "The church needs to do a reality check right across the board."
He said that some church figures who argued in the "No" camp came across as "harsh, damning and unloving, the opposite of their intention".
"Have we drifted completely away from young people?" he said. "Most of those people who voted 'yes' are products of our Catholic schools for 12 years."
After being honoured with the Tipperary International Peace Award on Sunday, Ban Ki-moon said the landmark referendum giving equal rights to same-sex couples was a truly historic moment (PA)
The vote is likely to have a knock-on effect elsewhere, particularly in Catholic-majority countries. It was also welcomed by Ban Ki-moon, the United Nations secretary-general.
"This is a truly historic moment: Ireland has become the first country in the world to approve marriage equality in a nationwide referendum," he said.
"The result sends an important message to the world: All people are entitled to enjoy their human rights no matter who they are or whom they love."
Italy's proposed civil partnership law – based on the German model - gives same sex couples many of the same rights as married couples, as well as the option of stepchild adoption, which allows a partner the possibility of adopting the biological child of the other partner. But the law is stuck in a Senate committee, where it has been bombarded with 4,320 amendments and is currently being rewritten with careful language that does not mention marriage.
Many of the roadblocks to the law have been thrown up by the far-right Northern League and the New Centre Right party of Angelino Alfano, which remain steadfast in their opposition to the adoption of children by same sex couples, the right for same sex partners to each other's pensions or a union that resembles marriage. "In our country we need to identify a path for civil unions that at the same time is not the same as marriage," said NCR's Fabrizio Cicchitto.
Pope Francis remained silent on the Irish vote during his Pentecost Sunday address (SIPA/Shutterstock/ Rex Features)
How the Vatican will respond to the social shift underway is as yet unclear. Pope Francis remained silent on the Irish vote during his Pentecost Sunday address, while comments by some senior Catholic clergy suggested the Church was reeling from the result.
"Many times the Catholic Church in Italy has said it is one thing to respect legitimate rights of every person, but it is another to speak of gay marriage," said Sicilian Archbishop Michele Pennisi in La Repubblica. But at least one senior Catholic cleric in Ireland now disagrees, saying the outcome of the vote was a message that the Church needs a "reality check. "
"I appreciate how gay and lesbian men and women feel on this day," said Diarmuid Martin, the archbishop of Dublin. "That they feel this is something that is enriching the way they live I think it is a social revolution."
While Pope Francis has in the past stressed that the Church continues to regard marriage as being a union between a man and a woman, he has also asked senior Church leaders to study the reasons why many countries continue to legalise same sex marriages.
Father Timothy Radcliffe is an outspoken proponent of gay rights (Nick Cornish)
In Latin America, where Catholic traditions and conservative governments tend to be anti-gay, Brazil, Uruguay, the Pope's native Argentina and the Federal District of Mexico City have passed laws allowing same sex marriages. Last week, the Pope appointed a liberal Dominican priest, Father Timothy Radcliffe, as consultor for the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace. The Englishman is an outspoken proponent of gay rights – another sign, some say, that Pope Francis is showing willingness to take a more inclusive stance on the issue.