Alice Panepinto (guest blogger, Durham University)
Homophobic episodes are all but rare in Italy – just this week, two directors of Arcigay, one of the leading LGBT organisations in the country, were assaulted and insulted while on official business in Naples (Arcigay: Napoli, Aggrediti Dirigenti Arcigay, 10th April 2011). But it is not only isolated episodes of homophobia carried out by ordinary citizens that disgrace the Italian peninsula: senior officials have been known to discredit same-sex unions on many occasions. In late 2010 Berlusconi himself excused his own questionable sexual behaviour by publicly stating: “at least I’m not gay!” This attitude, unfortunately, is shared by other members of the establishment who hold key decision-making positions.
Roberto De Mattei is vice president for legal and socio-economic affairs, arts and humanities at the CNR, the Italian National Research Council. This body seeks to “carry out, promote, spread, transfer and improve research activities in the main sectors of knowledge growth and of its applications for the scientific, technological, economic and social development of the Country”. Yet De Mattei, a historian, is fighting an aggressive battle against gay rights (alongside evolutionary theory and religious diversity).
Professor De Mattei has already fiercely criticised Article 21 of the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union (strengthened by the Lisbon Treaty): Any discrimination based on any ground such as sex, race, colour, ethnic or social origin, genetic features, language, religion or belief, political or any other opinion, membership of a national minority, property, birth, disability, age or sexual orientation shall be prohibited. It is known that the principle of non-discrimination, inasmuch as it includes a reference to sexual orientation, has repeatedly been condemned by the Vatican. However, De Mattei takes the argument further, cunningly describing gender theory in relation to sexual orientation as “Anglo-American”, subtly implying that it is in fact completely alien and inapplicable to the Italian socio-cultural milieu. His understanding of gender also determines his belief that sexual orientation as envisaged in EU law opposes natural law and the valid universal distinction between right and wrong. Homosexuality, he goes on, is the child of feminism, and will surely lead to hermaphroditism (what exactly he means by that I fail to appreciate)(Repubblica, in Italian).
In order to corroborate his theories, De Mattei is now drawing upon the work of Salvian, a Fifth Century writer. In De gubernatione Dei (“The Government of God”), Salvian ascribes the fall of Carthage, the Roman capital in Africa, to widespread homosexuality and the practice of cross-dressing. Conversely, the Barbarians did not engage in homosexual acts, and for this reason they succeeded in destroying the Roman Empire, where lascivious homoerotic behaviour was the norm. Salvian argues that God punished the Romans for their immoral acts and subsequently put an end to their civilisation. By drawing a historical comparison, and fearing its consequences, De Mattei has taken it upon himself to save the world from its sins and fight the rise of the legal culture of the “inverted” (his preferred term to describe LGBT people). And the principles of equality, non-discrimination and universal human dignity that underlie the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union are clearly in breach of the natural order he envisages.
Fortunately for Italian nationals and the citizens of the rest of the EU, since the Lisbon Treaty entered into force in 2009 the Charter of Fundamental Rights has gained the status of primary law. As a result, the principle of non discrimination on the grounds of sexual orientation (and gender identity) is now legally binding both at EU level and in member states. Implementation is far from being fully achieved – but the normative framework is a good starting point for reaffirming the value of equality and inherent human dignity.