Monday, May 14, 2007

Civil partnerships: why we are lucky

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.


Tristan said...

I dislike your slur against Americans at the end of that.

Aside from that, the Italian position is strange - I'm hoping the Catholic Church is pushed out of politics as a result of this...

As for our civil partnership laws - they're better than nothing but we should give them the same status as marriage (or preferably drop the state given status of marriage and replace it with private contract - but that is too radical it seems).

Dan T. said...

I'm all for offering recognition of realism with legal status, but I worry that 'partnership' is trying to regularize an equality issue which is based on fundamental differences (ie gender-difference in sexual reproduction).

The problem is that the tax system is often used to manipulate people and groups for social-engineering purposes which can degenerate into a squabble for political advantage over correct attitudes towards equality, or different emphases over priorities.

While some background reading serves to show that the institution of marriage was developed to counter the socially destructive profession of prostitution in an era before women had any civic or property rights, there are also strong arguments that suggest official promotion of a weakened 'natural' family unit has these unwanted wider social consequences.

As a renaissance man, scholar of intellectual thought and, at least in part, socially responsible for the political leadership over the reduction of street crime networks how would you reconcile this within a liberal framework?

Does it depend upon the institutional role of religion to step into the breach? Or should we bite our tongues about the brothels next-door?