People attend a Sunday mass in the Sanctuary of Montenero while social distancing on May 10, 2020 in Livorno, Italy. (Laura Lezza/Getty)
A group of Italian Catholic bishops has attacked proposed legislation against homophobia and transphobia, claiming it would make “expression of a legitimate opinion” a crime.
Employment discrimination based on sexual orientation was made illegal in Italy in 2003, but there are no other nationwide anti-discrimination laws protecting LGBT+ people.
In 2014, a bill made it to the country’s Senate that would ban discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity, but since then it has continued to be blocked by conservative MPs.
According to the Catholic Herald, the Italian bishops’ conference released a statement on Wednesday, June 10, arguing that legislation against “homotransphobic crimes” would infringe on freedom of speech.
They wrote: “Rather than punishing discrimination — it would end up striking the expression of a legitimate opinion, as learned by the experience of the legal systems of other nations in which similar internal regulations have already been introduced.”
The bishops added that legislation protecting LGBT+ Italians from homophobia and transphobia would make people “who believe the family requires a dad and a mum” guilty of “a crime of opinion”.
“There is no need for mutual controversy or ostracism on this, but availability for an authentic and intellectually honest discussion,” the bishops said.
“To the extent that this dialogue takes place in freedom, both respect for the person and the democracy of the country will benefit.”
The Italian bishops’ claim that anti-discrimination legislation infringes on freedom of speech echoes arguments made by the Trump administration and religious conservatives in the US.
Last week, the Trump administration asked the US Supreme Court to allow adoption agencies to discriminate against same-sex couples in the name of religion.
Department of Justice attorneys submitted a 35-page brief to the Supreme Court asking it to rule in favour of Catholic Social Services (CSS), a Philadelphia-based adoption agency that insists it should be allowed to turn away same-sex couples under the First Amendment.
In its brief, the Department of Justice said the United States has “a substantial interest” in the case because the government believes “free exercise of religion” should be protected.