By Alice Giannini
Alice Giannini is a fourth-year law student at the University of Bologna in Bologna, Italy.
Some could say 2015 was finally the year of LGBT rights. There are now 22 nations worldwide where same-sex marriage is recognized and legal.  In May, Ireland became the first country in the world to approve it through a referendum, with a 62% “yes” vote. In June, the US Supreme Court marked a new era in its legal system in its ruling in Obergefell v. Hodges, as it declared that “same-sex couples may exercise the fundamental right to marry in all States.”  However, 2016 may not be as successful for the movement to bring about greater equality.
On February 25 of this year, the Italian Senate approved a bill that regulated (for the first time) the institution of civil unions. The Italian lawmaking process is based on a perfect bicameral system, which means that both houses have the same powers and therefore both votes (on identical texts) are needed.  Nevertheless, after a very troubled political process, it can be reasonably supposed that the text that was approved on February 25 is the final one. This bill cannot be considered as a victory for the Italian LGBT community, but rather the umpteenth triumph of compromise.
To begin with, the bill can’t even be compared to legislation on same sex marriage because it does not introduce the possibility of allowing it: what it does is regulate civil unions, both homosexual and heterosexual. Civil unions are a form of legally recognized cohabitation between two non-married individuals which gives rise to mutual rights and duties. It can and it has been seen in other countries as a “first step” towards legalization of same-sex weddings: in fact, it was the way in which France legalized same-sex marriage, for example. But to the eyes of those who have been waiting for change, the devastating consequences of remaining invisible to the Italian society this simply cannot be accepted. This is not a victory in the name of love and equality, as stated by Prime Minister Renzi, since all it does is introduce a new form of regulated union instead of opening up the doors of the existent ones.
The flaws of this bill are even more evident when examining the substantial rights that are conferred to the partners of a civil union. As a consequence of the political process that led to the approval of the bill, a so-called “maxi-amendment” was added to the law. This amendment, which was the only way that Prime Minister Matteo Renzi could get the majority of votes required for the bill to pass, changed many essential elements of the original text of the bill. It contained the striking of clause number 5 of the bill, which regulated the so-called “stepchild adoption”: one partner adopting the biological child of the other. Furthermore, it eliminated many referrals to articles of the civil codes regulating civil marriage, causing the disapplication of rules such as the duty of faithfulness. Finally, it removed the referrals to the articles of the Constitution which explicitly recognize the essential core of family rights. Civil unions were instead characterized as one of the “social groups in which one’s personality finds expression.” 
So what are the consequences of the amendment? On one hand, couples who decide to form a civil union and do so following the procedure are entitled to almost all the rights and duties which follow a civil marriage: they are obliged to provide moral and material assistance to each other, they have the right to make decisions concerning their partner’s health in case of need, and so on. On the other hand, as stated earlier, the supporters of the amendment did everything in their power to make sure that the result of the bill was anything but allowing same-sex marriage.  The biggest flaw of this bill is the fact that the hole in Italian legislation caused by the present law on adoption hasn’t been filled. The Italian Parliament does not seem to acknowledge the fact that the judicial system has already allowed non-biological partners to gain adoption rights , in an effort to make up for the inefficiencies of the legislature branch, which is not capable to keep up with the shifting values in our society. Nor is the law in the best interest of children impacted by the amendment.
As the US Supreme Court ruled: “No union is more profound than marriage, for it embodies the highest ideals of love, fidelity, devotion, sacrifice, and family. In forming a marital union, two people become something greater than once they were.” This begs the question: why do unions between people of the same sex deserve lesser treatment than those formed between individuals of different sexes?
These unions are worthy of being handled with equal dignity by the law, and that doesn’t mean the creation of an ad hoc discipline. Same sex couples share the same kind of affection when handling family life or when they decide to take on parenthood  and this bill, which was meant to erase discrimination, resulted in making the gap even bigger. Italy had the chance to prove that it no less than her European neighbors and yet disappointed all expectations and chose the easy road. All that’s left is that same sex couples are once again separate, but equal.
 These are Argentina (2010), England / Wales (2013), Ireland (2015), Portugal (2010), United States (2015), Belgium (2003), Finland (2015), Luxembourg (2014), Scotland (2014), Uruguay (2013), Brazil (2013), France (2013), The Netherlands (2000), South Africa (2006), Canada (2005), Greenland (2015), New Zealand (2013), Spain (2005), Denmark (2012), Iceland (2010), Norway (2009), Sweden (2009). The number doesn’t include Mexico, where same sex marriage is allowed in the capital and in 4 other states.
 Obergefell v. Hodges. 2015 No. 14–556. Supreme Court of the United States.
 To see more: Sokol, Donna. 2013. "The Italian Legislative Procedure | In Custodia Legis: Law Librarians Of Congress". Blogs.Loc.Gov. http://blogs.loc.gov/law/2013/06/the-italian-legislative-procedure/.
 Constitution of Italy. 22 December 1947. http://www.refworld.org/docid/3ae6b59cc.html
 Trib. Minori Roma, 30 luglio 2014, No. 299; Corte d’App. Roma, 23 dicembre 2015.
 L'Huffington Post,. 2016. "Un'altra Occasione Persa, Discrimina Le Unioni Delle Coppie Gay". http://www.huffingtonpost.it/2016/02/26/rodota-unioni-civili-occasione-persa_n_9324372.html.
Photo Credit: Flickr User massimo ankor
The opinions and views expressed through this publication are the opinions of the designated authors and do not reflect the opinions or views of the Penn Undergraduate Law Journal, our staff, or our clients.