31 May 2013

Gay Marriage In The Land Of Il Conformisto

France has legalized same-sex marriage, the UK will do the same this summer, and Germany is awaiting a vote on the matter from the Bundestag.  That leaves Italy as one of the few Western European countries where the matter is not at least under consideration.  In fact, it's one of the few countries in the area that still doesn't even recognize same-sex civil unions.  

Some Italian cities--including Milan, but not including Rome--have legalized such unions.  But, as a recent Times article noted, the rights of gay couples end at their cities' limits. 

Some people blame the Vatican for the situation I've described. However, as Same Love founder Alessandro Bentivegna noted, "Ireland is just as Catholic, yet they're 100 years ahead of here."

If anything, the Irish have been more Catholic than the Italians for at least a couple of centuries. As in Giulia in Alberto Moravia's The Conformist observes, "Ninety percent of the people who go to church today don't believe. The priests don't, either."  Although the situation is changing, for many Italians, the Church is something like the Royal Family is to many British:  They can't tell you, exactly, what it's for or about, but they cannot imagine life without it.

On the other hand, Ireland had, arguably, the most fervent believers in Europe.  That, I believe, is a result of the British attempt to destroy their religion.  For a long time, Irish would-be priests were trained in France by disciples of theologian Cornelius Jansen, who emphasized human sin, depravity, predestination and the need for divine grace.  One result is that they preached through fiery sermons that could make even Jonathan Edwards blush.  

One thing about fundamentalism--whether of the Christian, Islamic or Jewish variety--is that when people break away from it, their actions are more decisive and climatic than of those who simply drift away from more moderate churches. So, while Italian Catholics--even those in the countryside--aren't much more religious than their peers in France or other countries, they are also less likely to bread away from Catholicism altogether.  That is why people attend church even when, as Giulia said, they don't believe in it.  

This attitude about church extends to other areas of Italian life:  People--especially politicians--cling to beliefs, rituals and traditions even after they have lost meaning.  That, I believe, accounts for the lack of urgency among Italians concerning a number of social issues that are debated vigorously--and, sometimes, acted upon--in other countries.  

A typical Italian attitude goes something like this:  Yes, gay couples should have the right to marry and have al of the other rights heterosexual couples have.  But they can go to Belgium or someplace else to get married.  So why is it so important to legalize it here?  Why is it such a big deal? If you can find a way to live your life the way you want to, why should you change anything?  As an Italian professor once told me, "If the Bastille had been in Rome, it would still be standing."

Also, politics are very different in Italy.  Here in the US, the far left and the far right are the most vocal in their views, and the latter is better able to transmit them because it is backed by some very wealthy individuals and corporations.  On the other hand, the center-left and center-right not only dominate Italian politics; they are also the most vocal proponents of their points of view.  And, those views, as often as not, are about preserving the status quo rather than making dramatic changes--as has happened in Ireland and Argentina--or in "returning" to some idealized version of what the "Founding Fathers" stood for, as we see in the US.  

In other words, Italians don't have the sense that they have to "save" their country, as the American right has, or that there has to be  a social revolution, as is occuring in Ireland, Spain and some Latin American countries.   That may be the main reason why Italy may not legalize same-sex unions--let alone marriage--for a while.

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