Zan: Italy senate votes down anti-homophobia bill

Italian senators block Zan bill aimed at fighting homophobia.

Italy's senate has voted to reject a bill that sought to make violence against LGBTQ+ people and disabled people, as well as misogyny, a hate crime.

The senate voted by 154 to 131 in a secret ballot on Wednesday afternoon to halt debate on the law, approved in November by the lower house of parliament.

The motion to block the so-called Zan bill - named after the centre-left Partito Democratico (PD) politician and gay rights activist Alessandro Zan - was put forward by right-wing parties Lega and Fratelli d'Italia (Fdl).

The vote took place after the speaker of the upper house Maria Elisabetta Alberti Casellati, of the centre-right Forza Italia party, agreed that the ballot could be held in secret.

The Zan bill was backed by the PD and the populist Movimento 5 Stelle (M5S), among others, however those on the conservative side of the debate say the law would have hampered freedom of expression, with the Lega party describing it as "divisive and ideological."

After the result of Wednesday's vote was announced, right-wing senators broke into wild applause in scenes widely condemned by "disgraceful" and "ignoble".

Political reaction

The result was welcomed by FdI leader Giorgia Meloni and the Lega leader Matteo Salvini, a harsh critic of the bill, who said “the arrogance of the PD and M5S has been defeated.”

Salvini suggested that MPs should come up with a new bill, based on proposals from the Lega, to fight discrimination but "leaving out gender theory."

PD leader and former prime minister Enrico Letta said of the outcome: “They wanted to stop the future. They wanted to drag Italy backwards."

M5S leader and former premier Giuseppe Conte said: “Those who are rejoicing at this sabotage should explain it to the country.”

Opposition to the Zan bill

The move to halt the bill - which modifies an existing law to allow crimes including racist violence, hatred and discrimination to be punished with up to four years in jail - comes after sustained lobbying from the right as well as Catholic groups.

Conservatives objected in particular to a proposal that Italy's schools would mark a national day against homophobia, transphobia and biphobia.

Vatican intervention

On 17 June the Vatican made an unprecedented intervention, lodging an objection to the proposed law over concerns that it could curb the religious freedom of the Catholic Church.

The Holy See expressed fears that the bill could lead to the violation of the 1929 Lateran Treaty which established the Vatican City as a sovereign state and regulates relations between Italy and the Catholic Church.

The Vatican feared that the law 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.

However the Italian prime minister Mario Draghi, a practicing Catholic, hit back at the Vatican to stress the independence of the country's parliament, telling the senate a week later: "Ours is a secular state, not a religious state."

Photo Il Manifesto