At one time, the power of the conservative Roman Catholic Church seemed an almost insurmountable obstacle to the progress of LGBT rights. In 2003, Belgium became the first Catholic-majority country to adopt marriage equality, soon to be followed by Canada, Spain, Portugal, Argentina, Brazil, Uruguay, France, and, most recently—and in a popular referendum—Ireland, revealing a trend that shatters such a pessimistic illusion. In fact, countries with a Catholic majority make up nearly half of those with marriage equality, and Catholics are overwhelmingly inclined to support same-sex marriages, or at least civil unions. So long as the false narrative of mainstream Catholicism's lack of acceptance prevailed, LGBT progress for Italy looked bleak. Now, the country of 60 million looks poised to legalize same-sex civil unions.
Today, the Italian Senate began investigation and debates into legally recognizing same-sex couples in the form of non-religious civil unions. Italy is the only major Western European nation without a legal status for same-sex couples, and the only founding member of the European Union without marriage equality. In recent months, the issue has boiled over in a number of high profile cases. Last year, Ivan Scalfarotto, a gay minister in the Italian government, launched a hunger strike until parliament agreed to take up the issue. In July, the European Court of Human rights found the Italy's lack of recognition constituted a human rights violation, and pressed the government to adopt new legislation.
The Catholic Church has remained outspoken in its opposition to same-sex unions. While Pope Francis has been far more measured than his predecessor—Pope Benedict XVI, now Pope Emeritus, led an aggressive campaign to defeat Italy's last attempt to legalize same-sex unions—he has nonetheless made clear his view, saying, "there cannot be any confusion between the family willed by God and other kinds of unions.”
Last year, a Buzzfeed/Ipsos poll found that 75% of Italians support civil unions, while 48% support full marriage equality. The New York Times reports, however, that some polls show popular support to have dropped considerably. Earlier this week, nearly a million people took part in public rallies across the country to demonstrating supporting the proposed legislation—a turnout hailed as "historic" by the Italian LGBT group Arcigay. Parliament is expected to vote on the matter by next Tuesday.