In this map of recognition of same – sex couples across Europe, it is striking how completely gay marriage applies across the Scandinavia and in the western part of the country – everywhere except Northern Ireland, where there are civil unions, but not (yet) full marriage. The same applies in the German speaking countries of central Europe, and even in some countries of the former Yugoslavia and the Soviet bloc.
Italy is a glaring gap, due largely to the influence of the powerful Italian Catholic Church – but that could soon change. The European Court of Human Rights has ruled that by failing to provide either civil unions or full gay marriage, Italy is violating the human rights of same – sex couples.
This will not have any immediate legal effect, but it will add substantially to the increasing political pressure. The Italian government has already promised to introduce civil unions, but has not yet followed words with actions. This judgement could change that, and polls show that support for gay marriage is increasing steadily.
What about the Catholic bishops?
In the past, they have strenuously and effectively opposed even civil unions, but in the Church too, things have changed. Many bishops in Europe and the America’s have been coming to the view that civil unions are at least more acceptable than full gay marriage, and are willing to accede to them as the “lesser of two evils” – or even (in a few cases), as having direct value in themselves. This was the option preferred by Pope Francis, when still Cardinal Bergoglio, leading the Church’s opposition to gay marriage in Argentina, and some years before that, of the Catholic bishops of Portugal. In both those countries, their efforts failed and full marriage was introduced.
The Italian bishops carry rather more weight with the their government, so it is unlikely that any attempt at full marriage equality will succeed. Civil unions however, will be easier – and the Italian government knows it.