Have I mentioned I was in Italy a couple of months ago? I might have alluded now and again to the fact that work forced me to visit a country I thoroughly enjoy. There is so much that I relish there – but, recently, there has been one issue that has made me thank the Lord that I am British.
Civil partnerships: the Labour party has a patchy record on such issues, understandably so for an organisation which does not see civil liberties as at its core. But, while they are still reprobates on matters like ID cards, we should at least give credit for the fact that, at last, civil partnerships have been legalised here.
Not so in Italy, where a bill called ‘Dico’ is the patata calda. Remember: many commentators have said that this bill legalising civil partnerships, rather than an American airbase near Verona or the number of troops in Afghanistan, is the real reason why some venerable senators brought down the first Prodi government. The second government has not yet dropped the bill but the pressure is on them. British experience would lead us to expect demonstrations in favour of such a bill – I bumped into one in Rome when I was there – but what we don’t expect are mass demonstrations against such a commonsensical, liberal measure. But that is what exactly happened this weekend, on ‘Family Day’ – not, you understand, a cross-generational celebration of Doris Day, but a mass protest, with an American title, in support of ‘family values’.
The Catholic church stayed away, but then they didn’t need to be there: the Vatican diktat had already gone out that any MP who called themselves a Catholic had to vote against the bill. Silvio Berlusconi, now the leader of the opposition, did turn up. He claimed it was because of a scurrilous cartoon (which goes something like: woman to man ‘oh no, there are going to be so many clerics on the march’, man to woman ‘what, would you prefer to leave them at home with the kids?’). The cartoonist said the Catholic church should give him 200 years plenary indulgence for encouraging Berlusconi to attend. Silvio was joined by a million others.
The intervention of religion so forcefully in public life, the inability to divide the ethical from political: in some ways, it seems, the Italians are more American than their Anglo-Saxon European partners. We can’t be complacent, we shouldn’t be proud – but how I wish my favourite nation would lighten up a little.