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ROME – Months of controversy in Italian politics reached a climax Wednesday when a heavily debated anti-homotransphobia bill, which also garnered unprecedented objections from the Vatican, was defeated during a secret vote in the Italian senate.
During an Oct. 27 Senate hearing, the so-called “Ddl Zan” bill was quashed in a 154-131 vote, meaning the legislation has effectively died.
Named after Alessandro Zan, the openly gay Italian Democratic MP who created it, the Ddl Zan sought to impose legal penalties for discrimination based on sexual orientation and to incorporate gender theory into school curricula, including an annual anti-homophobia day at schools.
Despite widespread controversy and intense scrutiny from academics, legal experts, and family groups, the bill was approved by the lower chamber of the Italian parliament in November 2020. Over the summer, Italian lawmakers in a majority vote found that the bill was not unconstitutional and would therefore pass to the next stage in the approval process.
However, the bill was hit with a staggering 1,000 proposed amendments during senate discussion in July, and deliberations were postponed until after the summer vacation.
The Vatican also intervened, writing to the Italian Foreign Ministry over the summer claiming the bill would violate the 1929 Lateran Pacts, which established the Holy See as a sovereign state and which governs the Vatican’s relations with Italy. It was the first known time the Vatican invoked the Lateran agreement to oppose a draft piece of legislation.
In its brief, the Vatican argued the Zan bill was overly generic and would criminalize any articulation of Church teaching on marriage and the family, thus violating Italian constitutional guarantees of religious freedom.
Discussion on the bill, which was supported by Italy’s main center-left party, the Democrats, as well as the anti-establishment 5Star Movement and the far-left Free and Equal Party, was taken up again in a Senate session Wednesday.
Opponents from Italy’s right-wing coalition, including the populist Lega party and Fratelli d’Italia, argued that the bill, if passed, would restrict free speech and codify gender theory into law. They wanted to cut certain articles on gender theory, including a provision for anti-homophobia days in schools.
At one point, the right-wing coalition parties proposed an alternative bill making homophobia an aggravating factor in violent crimes, but that proposal did not include legal protections for transgender people and compromise negotiations failed.
During Wednesday’s session, the conservative coalition proposed skipping a procedure that would have had MP’s voting on individual articles and moving directly to a secret vote on whether to approve the bill itself.
Both of those proposals were accepted by Italian Senate President Elisabetta Casellati, and the secret vote passed 154-131, effectively killing the bill, indicating that even a few leftist lawmakers likely voted against it.
The bill has now been sent back to the Senate Justice commission, and under current Senate rules, it cannot be re-proposed for at least six months.
After hearing the results of Wednesday’s vote, Zan, the author of the bill, criticized the decision, saying, “A political agreement that would have brought the country a step closer towards civilization was betrayed.”
Opponents rejoiced, including several rightwing MP’s who stood and clapped when the defeat of the Ddl Zan was announced. Licia Ronzulli, a senator in Silvio Berlusconi’s Forza Italia party, blamed the left for being too inflexible in its ideologies.
“We could have done something good together, but they wanted an ideological law that split parliament,” she said.
Antonio Brandi of the Italian Catholic Pro Vitae Famiglia organization, which has been one of the leading groups opposing the bill, said the defeat of the Ddl Zan is “a victory for democracy, freedom of opinion and conscience, and of the educative freedom of Italian families.”
Throughout the ongoing debate over the Ddl Zan, Brandi’s group has held numerous protests and demonstrations, and they have also organized petitions and conferences to oppose the bill.
“We have foiled the brainwashing of millions of children in Italian schools by LBGT activists,” he said, adding that in the end, “common sense prevailed among the senators.”
“Today we all won because all Italians have the right to express their fundamental freedoms and to think differently than the usual mainstream pro-LGBT” movement, he said.
Follow Elise Ann Allen on Twitter: @eliseannallen