LGBT+ Rights in Italy: What is the Zan Bill and Why Was it Rejected?
You may have heard of the LGBT+ community protesting across Italy. Many of these demonstrations are in response to the blocking of the Zan Bill, which was has been debated heavily among Italy's lawmakers.
In this article, we're going to break down the facts surrounding the Italian Zan Bill, who it affects, and the bill's outcome.
What is the Italian Zan Bill?
The Italian Zan Bill, also called the Ddl Zan in Italian, refers to a bill drafted in 2018 by Italian MP Alessandro Zan. Zan is a liberal politician who has campaigned for LGBT+ rights in Italy for many years. He is also an active member of Arcigay, the country's first and largest LGBT+ organisation.
As a strong advocate for LGBT+ rights in Italy, Zan proposed a bill to alter the country's penal code by criminalising discrimination against the country's LGBT+ community. He claimed that Italy could have more appropriate protections for LGBT+ people and safeguard their rights.
Italy does have some laws that protect the rights of LGBT+ people, such as the right to express themselves freely, but the country's laws are viewed as lagging behind other countries in Western Europe. Same-sex marriages are banned, and gay couples are not allowed to adopt children based on existing legislation.
According to some LGBT+ activists and advocacy groups, hate crimes based on sexual orientation or gender identity aren't typically considered by the Italian system as aggravated enough to be charged as severely as other hate crimes, such as racism. Therefore, the lack of appropriate legislation led Zan to create a supplementary bill that could promote the safety of the LGBT+ community, protect their rights, and provide definitive repercussions for perpetrators of LGBT+ hate crimes. The bill also included provisions for those that discriminated against women and disabled people.
Within the bill, Zan proposed the hate crimes to carry up to a €6,000 fine or a prison sentence of 18-months maximum. He also suggested long-term prison sentences for more severe and violent crimes, ranging up to four years.
What was the outcome of the Zan Bill?
After Zan drafted the bill in 2018, it was debated and approved by Italy's Lower House in November 2020. The bill then went to the Senate, where it was debated and received an outcome in October 2021.
After much debate in Italy's Senate, conservative lawmakers voted against the bill with 154 votes to 131.
The Senate blocked the bill primarily due to the Catholic Church's conservative and historical influence in Italy.
Italy is a predominantly Catholic country, and Catholic beliefs influence many laws and public norms. The Catholic Church currently does not recognise same-sex relations and condemns homosexual activities. The government even holds a special agreement with the Catholic Church, called the Lateran Treaty, which gives The Vatican its religious sovereignty and freedoms within Italy.
When the Zan bill was initially introduced in 2018, the Catholic Church voiced concerns that it would interfere with the right to religious freedom and would violate the Lateran Treaty.
The Church also feared that the law would force Catholic schools to participate in LGBT+ events, such as Anti-Homophobia Day, and that the curriculum would need to include information that doesn't align with the Catholic doctrines.
With the Church worried that their religious freedoms would be infringed upon or censored, many conservative lawmakers agreed and voted against the bill.
Others argued that the bill didn't adequately promote women's rights or the rights of people with disabilities and that it could violate people's freedom of speech. Some TERF groups (trans-exclusionary radical feminists) were also against the bill promoting Trans' rights as women's rights.
However, Zan responded to these allegations and stated that the bill doesn't aim to diminish freedom of speech and that excluding Trans women from the discourse was unacceptable since they still deserved equal rights.
What was the reaction to the bill being blocked?
When the voting result on the bill was revealed, many conservative lawmakers were seen standing and applauding the bill's rejection.
At the same time, supporters of the bill gathered in piazzas, or city centres, across the country and marched throughout the streets of Rome and Milan, protesting their anger at the lawmakers' decision.
Alessandro Zan responded to the news by stating that the decision was a step backwards for Italy and LGBT+ rights. He also expressed his disappointment towards conservative groups, noting that they had a responsibility to uphold the rights of LGBT+ people and failed.
Another Italian politician, Pina Picierno, called the move "one of the worst pages in the history of the Italian Republic."
Other reactions to the bill's rejection came from popular fashion houses based out of Italy. Famous designers and creative directors, including Donatella Versace and Marc Jacobs, took to social media to show their disdain for the decision.
What happens next?
According to the International Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans, and Intersex Association (ILGA), Italy continues to see an increase in hate crimes every year. For example, in 2021, approximately 138 hate crimes based on sexual orientation and gender identity were reported, with even more cases likely going unreported.
Left-wing lawmakers will have to wait for another six months before the bill is reopened for Senate debate and discussion. The bill's proposal is also set to expire in 2023, and many lawmakers and advocates fear that it won't be approved in time before it expires. These rules mean that many LGBT+ people may have to wait years to receive full protections and see distinct legislative changes.
Many activists acknowledge that the bill's controversy has led to a divide across Italy and has challenged long-standing cultural norms and spiritual beliefs. Still, they believe it's crucial to continue fighting for the rights of LGBT+ people.
Unfortunately, until Italian lawmakers agree that LGBT+ rights should be protected and upheld, discrimination against the community will persist.
For more resources on how to be an ally, check out our dedicated LGBTQ+ Rights & Issues section.
Edited by Christophe Locatelli