A Gay Couple Invites Prodi to Supper

Below is my translation of a letter forwarded to gay internet mailing lists in Italy on 15 January 2006, the day after thousands of supporters of PaCS [1] rallied in Rome’s Piazza Farnese to urge recognition of same-sex unions in Italy. (You can read the original letter here.)

The writers indicate that the letter was sent directly to Romano Prodi, a leading candidate for the office of Italian Prime Minister, via Prodi’s website, and copied to various Italian newspapers. (To date, the letter has not appeared on Prodi’s site, which publishes citizens’ letters online.)

Prodi, a politician and economist, has served as the President of the Italian Consiglio dei Ministri and as President of the Commissione Europea. He is the founder of the Ulivo party and the leader of the left and left-center coalition, L’Unione. Following the elections in October 2005, Prodi was chosen as L’Unione’s candidate to challenge Silvio Berlusconi, currently the Italian Prime Minister (and Italy’s richest citizen). Prodi is widely expected to win that election, planned for April 9, 2006.

Prodi, who frequently underscores the fact that he is a “devout catholic” but also a “layman” when it comes to politics, had previously demonstrated his openness to PaCS, going so far as to announce that support for PaCS would become an official plank in L’Unione’s political platform. Two days before the January 14 demonstration, however, he called one of the organizers of the rally, Franco Grillini, to say that plans for the pro-PaCS rally had left him “embittered.” Prodi’s motivation wasn’t entirely clear, but appears to have had to do with organizers’ intention to include, in the four-hour-long rally, a symbolic “PaCS Celebration” ceremony for a small number of same-sex couples.

Prodi has long made clear his opposition to gay marriage (L’Unione, in fact, has officially stopped referring to the “patti civili” envisioned by PaCS and now uses the term “civil unions” instead).

According to Patrizia Toia, member of Parliament for the moderate La Margherita party (a member of the L’Unione coalition), Prodi’s bitterness was “understandable.” Prodi had gone to enormous effort to bring members of L’Unione together on the issue of PaCS, Toia said, and feared justifiably that the January 14th demonstration—and, in particular, the planned “celebration of PaCS unions”—would be seen as a “provocation” to that coalition and would once again confuse the distinction between “gay marriage” and “civil union” in the public’s eye.

“Marriage has absolutely nothing to do with it,” Toia insisted. “Since PaCS is not a form of surrogate marriage, there’s no need for a ‘celebration.’”

Grillini, in a January 13 interview with the Milan-based Radio Popolare, said that Prodi had told him that the rally was “inopportune at this time,” and Grillini speculated that, in addition to the strategic question of the upcoming elections, Prodi was perhaps more importantly reacting to the statement by Pope Benedict, released earlier on the morning of Prodi’s telephone call, in which the Pope expressed his “utter outrage” regarding the pro-PaCS demonstration.

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A Gay Couple Invites Prodi to Supper

Dear Professor Prodi:

First of all, we’d like to introduce ourselves. We are Saverio and Markus. For the last six years we have lived together in Florence, in a nice neighborhood in the southern part of the city, with our cat, Pippi. We are employed, we pay our taxes, we’re good citizens, we respect the environment, we are concerned about our fellow human beings.

Let’s also clear up any potential misunderstandings: we are a family. By which we mean: love, support, a mutual life plan. Like all other families, we are integrated into a network of affection and love composed of parents, nieces and nephews, siblings, friends, coworkers, neighbors. We lead a normal, quiet life together, and together we face the problems that all Italian citizens face. We appreciate the political work that you do and, because of that—and speaking as potential voters—there are a few things we’d like to ask.

We read recently that the demonstration in favor of PaCS in Piazza Farnese left you feeling “embittered,” and we don’t understand why. If anyone has a reason to be bitter, it’s us.

Let us explain. If one of the two of us needed to be cared for in the hospital, for example, we would not be able to ask our respective employers for paid time off. My married coworkers, on the other hand, can request such a leave, and the two of us contribute (gladly) through our taxes so that they can enjoy such a right. We would not be able to request information from care givers about the condition of the other’s health, and we wouldn’t have the right to make life-and-death decisions for each other—though we know better than anyone else does the nature of our most personal and private beliefs. If one of us should die, the survivor wouldn’t have the right to take over the lease on the apartment we share, we wouldn’t have the right to inherit the possessions that we have bought jointly (furniture, a car, appliances) or to the savings or investments that we’ve made together. Because of that, we’ve decided against buying a house. Given that we wouldn’t be able to make wills in each other’s favor, it’s simply too great a risk.[2]

If we should have financial problems, we couldn’t rely on the other partner’s pension. And we’ll just stop there, because the list is a long one.

We often hear people say that we would be a danger to the traditional family. We would appreciate it if Ruini, Casini,[3] and their allies could explain to us exactly how.

We think about such things often when, at six in the morning, Saverio gets up an extra 10 minutes early to make sandwiches for us to eat while we’re at work, as we try to find the best prices while we’re grocery shopping (like every other Italian family, we have a hard time making our money last until the end of the month), when we kiss each other goodbye at the front door, when we think about how best to save for our old age, as we’re out buying Christmas presents for our nieces and nephews. How, how, how in the world could we possibly be a danger to the traditional family? Explain it to us, please, Professor.

Think about it: As we’re doing the wash on Saturday afternoon—separating the whites from the darks and talking about when to invite my brother and his wife to supper, about the next meeting of the condominium association, about where to go on vacation, about how beautiful our co-worker’s brand new baby is, about what the San Remo Music Festival will be like this year with Giorgio Panariello at the helm—the whole time we’re plotting against the Family.

And are we then to understand that the Family is the one place where no one’s rights are ever denied? I can at least understand the argument of people who say we’re going to hell, but I really have to say we don’t feel as though we’re a danger to anyone, especially since—just as another example—family violence and child abuse are almost always committed by fathers. One day, when we find ourselves face-to-face with God, we’ll ask him why he made us this way, since no one chooses to be gay. And since we’re there, we’ll also ask Him what he thinks about all those gay priests and monks, second only to hairdressers in their representation among the professions.

The daily life of gay people like us is not exactly a stroll in the park, don’t forget that, Professor Prodi, before you start talking about homosexuality. The daily life of gay people like us isn’t like an episode of Platinette[4] and it isn’t like an Aldo Busi novel: it’s often an excruciating ordeal.

We are a family. We’re not interested in choosing a bridesmaid or in what kinds of party favors to provide for the wedding guests or in throwing bouquets for our women friends to catch. What we’re interested in is the possibility of having the rights that all people have when they mingle their lives together, the same rights that regularly eat up our paychecks, just like everybody else’s.

Markus is a German citizen. We could become a legally recognized couple there, but Saverio would lose his Italian citizenship. We consider ourselves citizens of Europe, and we wish we could understand why everyone talks so much about being a part of Europe when it’s a matter of the economy but becomes very “Italian” when it’s a question of rights. Don’t tell us, Professor Prodi, that you’re unaware that many political parties in Europe—be they moderate or conservative—are in favor of civil unions.[5]

Dear Professor Prodi, we’d like to extend an invitation. Come have supper with us one evening, you and your wife, Flavia. We’d like to give you the chance to know how a normal couple lives—sustained by our mutual love, but not without the fear that a gust of wind might become, for us, a hurricane. We’d like to tell you more about us, introduce you to our parents and our brothers and sisters, show you our house and the terrace where we’ve just planted next season’s bulbs, and we’d like to talk to you about bitterness.

Affectionately,

Saverio and Markus

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[1] Patto Civile di Solidarietà or “Civil Pact,” refers to the 1999 French legislation (pacte civil de solidarité) and is a form of civil union between two adults (of the same or opposite sex) for organizing their joint life. It brings rights and responsibilities, but less so than marriage. Italy has yet to adopt PaCS.

[2]In Italy, inheritance is determined by Italian law and not generally by what is written in a will. Estates are divided among survivors along strict lines of marriage and blood relationship, and only in unusual cases of large and valuable estates are wills recognized. As a result, same-sex couples cannot legally bequeath anything to one another.

[3]Camillo Ruini is a Roman Catholic Cardinal and president of the Conferenza Episcopale Italiana (Italian Episcopal Conference; Pierferdinando Casini is President of the Chamber of Deputies (the lower house of the Italian parliament) and an influential member of the Popolo della Libertà (The People of Freedom Party), a coalition of right-wing and center-right political parties led by Silvio Berlusconi that includes the notoriously racist Lega Nord. Together they are outspoken in their opposition to PaCS in Italy.

[4] A plus-size drag queen, à la Divine, with a TV show, a web site, and a large popular following.

[5] Civil unions, partnerships, or forms of common-law marriage for same-sex couples are recognized in the following European countries: Andorra, Belgium, Croatia, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Hungary, Luxembourg, The Netherlands, Norway, Portugal, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, and the United Kingdom. Such unions are also available in Canada, Greenland, Iceland, Israel, New Zealand, and South Africa. (Source: Wikipedia.) “Coppie di fatto” (de facto couples) are recognized in eight regions of Italy (Campania, Emilia Romagna, Lazio, Le Marche, Puglia, Tuscany, Umbria, and Veneto).

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Posted on 16 January 2006, in Italy, Italian, Italians (in that order), Translation ... sometimes it is a beautiful thing...., You Can Always Count on a Little Homophobia and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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