Wednesday, June 01, 2016






Penne and Prejudice

"Consider the Catholic Church our N.R.A."

ROME — If there’s a gayer country than Italy, I haven’t ogled it.
I don’t mean demographically gay. That’s unknowable. I mean spiritually gay. I mean the self-conscious style and gaudy opera of the place.
It’s shaped like high-heeled footwear. It’s a mecca of high-priced men’s wear. Its signature hunk of marble, the David, looks less like he’s girding for Goliath than like he’s posing between squats at the local Equinox. And have you seen those Venetian glass chandeliers, with their wild colors and wacky tentacles? They could be gay octopi on their way to an underwater Cher concert.
So why isn’t Italy kinder to gays?
Just a few weeks ago, after considerable shaming by the European Union, it finally legalized civil unions for same-sex couples, and while that was a step forward, it was also a reminder of how far Italy still lagged behind such densely Roman Catholic European peers as Ireland, Portugal and Spain, all of which had already accorded gays and lesbians actual marriage rights.
But Italy, ever a marinara of contradictions, has long embraced and revered openly gay artists, designers and even political leaders. The southern region of Puglia elected an openly gay governor, Nichi Vendola, in 2005 and kept him in that post for 10 years. He was at one point discussed as a future prime minister.
When I asked him about Italy’s lag, he cited, among other factors, its particular relationship with the Catholic Church.
Only a minority of Italians are regular churchgoers, and many defy church teaching on divorce and on abortion, which is legal (though difficult to procure) here. But Vatican City’s situation in the heart of this country gives it a special incentive and invitation to meddle in Italian affairs. It uses Italy to assess and advertise its sway.
Vendola said that in regard to gay rights and “the primary idea of the traditional family, the church played all of its cards to influence Italian politics, even through today.” Civil unions passed, but gay adoption — adamantly opposed by church leaders — was stripped from the legislation.
Giovanni Dall’Orto, a gay historian in Milan, analyzed this dynamic more bluntly. “Consider the Catholic Church our N.R.A.,” he told me.
But there’s more at work. For much of the last quarter century, Italian politics wasn’t structured in a manner that made any one major party the eager home and champion of gay rights.
“The problem,” said Alessio De Giorgi, the founder of one of Italy’s most prominent gay websites, “was the lack of courage of the political class.”
And the gay rights movement didn’t coalesce as quickly here as elsewhere.
“Italians in general are very laissez-faire with their political struggles,” said Nina Peci, a graphic designer in Florence who married her wife, who is British, in England, where it’s allowed.
Inasmuch as that’s true, it reflects a pronounced bifurcation of public versus private life. I was constantly struck by that when I lived in Rome from 2002 to 2004, and I notice it anew each time I visit Italy.
This is a land of rococo rules — religious and secular — but few people consider them binding. Why change them if you can just choose which ones to obey?
It’s also customary here to show one face to the world and another at home: to conform when there’s a crowd and rebel when there’s not. And the realm for fashioning certain accommodations is the family, not the village square.
“Should everyone be out and everyone be outed?” asked Fred Plotkin, an American friend of mine who might as well be Italian, given how extensively he has studied and worked in Italy, the subject of many of the books he’s written. “I think Italians don’t think so, and not because of shame — because of a genuine love of privacy.”
Where others see inconsistencies that demand resolution, many Italians don’t.
My partner, Tom, has an aunt and uncle who are farmers in a Tuscan village of 250 people. They’re over 75. When we visited them, they made us rabbit and polenta. They summoned the cousins. They insisted that we stay three nights.
And they put fine linens on our bed, which was positioned squarely below one of the dozens of Catholic icons throughout the house: a framed picture of the pope.
Source: The New York Times, The Opinion Pages, Frank Bruni, June 1, 2016

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