The prospect of a law against hate crimes and homophobia has the Vatican reportedly up in arms, and fighting to protect their right to discriminate against the LGBTQI+ community.

The Vatican recently sent a diplomatic letter to the Italian government to protest the so-called “Zan bill” – a bill that looks to amend the currently lax discrimination laws in the country.

The Vatican claims that the bill would violate the Lateran Treaty, signed by the Vatican City and Italy in 1929, which recognised Vatican City as an independent state. They have protested the new laws, as proposed saying it, “could lead to criminalisation of the church in Italy for refusing to conduct gay marriages, for opposing adoption by homosexual couples through Catholic institutions, or for refusing to teach gender theory in Catholic schools,” according to a Vatican source reported by The Washington Post.

They’ve got it all wrong!

But the legislator behind the bill and for who it is named after, Alessandro Zan, an Out gay member of the centre-left Democratic Party has refuted those claims. In a tweet, Zan has assured the Vatican that that is simply not the case, “The text [of the law] does not restrict in any way freedom of expression or religious freedom. And it respects the autonomy of all schools”.

The bill has been successful in proceeding through Italy’s halls of power, passing in the lower house and has since been under debate in the Senate, amid intense national interest. If passed into law it would explicitly categorise violence against LGBT people as a hate crime, increasing current penalties and classifying such violence in a similar category as racial or antisemitic attacks.

The Zan law also protects people based on gender identity, which it seems is just a stroke too far for some folks, including the leader of the far-right League, Matteo Salvini.

In a gross oversimplification designed to rile the base in a way that would make any Donald Trump supporter proud, Salvini falsely claimed that the law punishes those “who think a mom is a mom and a dad is a dad.”

In fact, advocates of the law say that the changes would simply bring Italy into line with other Western European countries and provide much-needed protections for the LGBTQI community, which are sorely needed immediately, after a recent series of murders and assaults perpetrated against gay and transgender people.

LGBTQI discrimination in Italy is not surprising, considering that lack of protections

As noted by LGBTQI association Rainbow Europe on their website, Italy provides pretty ordinary protections for its LGBTQI citizens, coming in at number 35 on a list of 49 countries.

That’s below countries like Serbia and Georgia when graded on qualities like equality, family issues and hate speech to legal gender recognition, freedom of expression and asylum rights.

Even though Pope Francis has been one of the more liberal leaders of the Catholic Church, last year appearing to support same sex couple’s rights to to have “civil unions”, as reported by the Star Observer, he is firm in his beliefs when it comes to “gender issues”.

In 2019, Pope Francis said that people do not have the right to choose their own gender – once again proving that the church continues to bury its head in the sand when it comes to acknowledging the plain it causes to LGBTQI+ communities.

In March 2021, the Vatican had come out against same-sex unions, decreeing that the Catholic Church cannot bless gay couples as God “cannot bless sin”.

Gabriele Piazzoni, secretary general of Arcigay, Italy’s largest gay rights group thinks that the church is terrified that the 75% of Italians (according to Pew Research Centre) who think homosexuality is A-ok with them, thank you very much, might rise up and bring the church to task.

“The dissonance I see is between this kind of behavior by the Vatican and the majority of the Catholic world and of Catholic public opinion,” Piazzoni said. 

“Maybe they are afraid that the [Catholic school] students, parents and teachers may be the ones asking to hold initiatives against discrimination or violence. There could be a groundswell of requests that they want to prevent at all costs.”

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