Demonstrations took place over the weekend in Italy as the country's parliament considers proposed legislation that would add hate crimes based on sexual orientation and gender identity to existing law. Current law only recognizes hate crimes based upon the victim's race or religion. Supporters of the legislation say it is needed to combat rising acts of violence against the LGBTQ+ community, while opponents say it is unnecessary and restricts freedom of expression.
"These people are particularly exposed to hate crimes," Alessandro Zan, a member of Parliament and the center-left Democratic Party which proposed the legislation, told the New York Times. "This is why we particularly need to protect them."
Under current law, hate crimes committed against LGBTQ+ communities are treated as cases of simple assault. Arcigay, an Italian LGBTQ+ advocacy group, recorded over 100 incidents of violence or assault that could be classified as a hate crime according to the Reuters.
"These episodes rarely turn into official complaints," Francesca Rupalti, a lawyer with the LGBTQ+ legal advocacy group Rete Lenford told the Times. "Without a specific law, it is hard to prove homophobic acts."
Opposition to the proposed change to current law has been met with opposition from right-wing groups as well as from some religious groups. Their complaints range from possible restrictions on speech and expression to outright denial of the problem.
"There is no discrimination in Italy," League's leader Matteo Salvini, leader of the far-right League party, said at a news conference in July, adding that "all the possible sanctions and punishment one can think of are already in place."
"To say that two men do not make one mother is a fact, not homophobia," Jacopo Coghe, deputy chairman of the conservative Pro Life and Family advocacy group, told Reuters.
The Italian Conference of Bishops published an open letter denying there is a problem, and claiming that current law protects "homosexual people" from "mistreatment, violence, aggression" and "has the necessary tools to guarantee respect for the person in every situation."
Marlon Landolfo, 21, was one of those demonstrating in support of the proposed hate crimes legislation over the weekend. He and another man were the victim of a violent homophobic assault after holding hands and briefly kissing on a date last month. Landolfo believes the new protections are long overdue.
"We have been through centuries of discrimination," Landolfo, who was still bruised and sore from the beating. "Now it's 2020 and we are still discussing a law that protects us for what we are."