Italy PM hits back at Vatican over challenge to Zan anti-homophobia law

Italy's lawmakers react as Vatican makes 'unprecedented' challenge to Italy's anti-homophobia bill.

Italian prime minister Mario Draghi has stressed the independence of the country's parliament after the Vatican expressed reservations about a draft law designed to combat homophobia, currently under debate in Italy.

Draghi was addressing the Italian senate in light of the Vatican's opposition to the contested bill which it fears could curb the religious freedom of the Catholic Church.

The so-called "Zan law" - named after politician and LGBTQ activist Alessandro Zan - seeks to punish acts of discrimination and incitement to violence against gay, lesbian, transgender and disabled people, as well as making misogyny a hate crime.

The bill was approved by the lower house of parliament in November but needs final approval from the senate.

The bill, which modifies an existing law punishing racist violence, hatred and discrimination, would see people convicted of such crimes facing up to four years in jail.

On 17 June the Vatican lodged a diplomatic protest against the draft law - delivered to the Italian embassy to the Holy See by Pope Francis' de facto foreign minister, Archbishop Paul Richard Gallagher - in what the media has labelled 'interference' in Italy's affairs.

Vatican spokesman Matteo Bruni told AFP news agency the bill was "an unprecedented act in the history of relations" between Italy and the Holy See.

However Draghi, a practicing Catholic, told the senate yesterday: "Ours is a secular state, not a religious state."

The premier also underlined that Italy's legal system is designed to respect international commitments, a reference to the 1929 Lateran Treaty which established the Vatican City as a sovereign state and regulates relations between Italy and the Catholic Church.

In its letter, the Vatican argued that the draft law could violate the historic accord.

The Corriere della Sera, Italy's newspaper of record, reports that the Church has objected to Catholic schools not being exempted from a proposed national day against homophobia, transphobia and biphobia, to be held on 17 May.

The Vatican fears that the law as written could lead to the Church in Italy facing legal action for refusing to conduct gay marriages, for opposing adoption by homosexual couples through Catholic institutions or for refusing to teach gender theory in Catholic schools, a Vatican source told Reuters news agency.

Roberto Fico, speaker of the lower house, told state broadcaster RAI on Wednesday: "Parliament is sovereign and won't accept interference."

However Matteo Salvini, head of the right-wing Lega party which aligns itself with the Church's stance, said: "I thank the Vatican for its good sense."

In recent months the bill has faced sustained opposition from rightist parties, conservative groups and the Italian Catholic Church, with the Lega describing it as "divisive and ideological" and arguing it could hamper freedom of expression.

However Zan denies the bill would impinge on free speech, stressing that it would "criminalise hate" against LGBT people and disabled people as well as punishing misogyny.