This is my sixth year in Italy, and getting on the plane to come back here was difficult, not just because I was coming back to winter, but also because it meant re-entering the fraccas that is the never ending polemica.
Today is Australia Day and there are some major ongoing issues that need confronting in Australia including the divide between rich and poor, ongoing racism and a growing anti Muslim stance, but for the most part I think Australians are a tolerant and respectful bunch. Differences of opinions are rarely the source of deep divisions in society and in the media. It's not often a case of us versus them, let's just say.
Here in Italy, things are different. Italy, in my mind, has to be one of the capitals of divisive thought. A fractured, splintered media makes a huge contribution to this, as does the existence of organizations like the Catholic Church. There are so many entrenched, vested interests in this country that it feels as if Italians are stuck under a net so intricately weaved that if they ever make it up to the surface, the only thing they are capable of doing is taking shallow breaths.
I'm Australian and my partner is Italian. We've been together for more than five years. The thing is we come from two opposite spectrums of the world: I'm from the new world and he's from one of the historic centres of the world as we know it. Yet, as an Australian and an Italian we both share one thing in common. We both come from the last Western countries in our cultural worlds that don't offer equality marriage. Italy is the last major Western European nation that doesn't recognise same sex unions, and Australia is the last major country in the Anglosphere that hasn't enshrined things in law.
Now, don't get me wrong. It's not like I want to get to married. In Australia, my long term relationship with my partner is technically recognised to some extent by the existing de facto laws there. But not wanting to get married and not even having the choice or right to choose really infuriates me.
What do you care? You might think. You're happy - you've been together for five years, what will a piece of paper change?
Nothing. Not on a daily basis. But not all people marry because they want to feel different about each other. Some people marry for practical reasons. And married friends who have been together less time than I've been with my partner have a host of financial, employment and medical rights that we can only dream about.
What do you care? Well. Let me illustrate how this works. You see, I come from a state in Australia called Victoria. Although Australia doesn't offer same sex unions or marriage, Victoria at least recognises same sex unions from other countries, has just passed same sex adoption laws and at the moment offers a register (although as it is purely symbolic why would I bother?). And if something happens to you, you need the protection of the law. As a human being, if something happens to me or my partner, I would like to think that either one of us would have the support and the right to decide what happens, what needs to be done, and that the other will be protected.
For those who aren't able to comprehend what this means on a human basis, Iet me draw your attention to this recent and shocking set of events that occured in South Australia, Victoria's neighbour state which doesn't recognise foreign same sex unions.
This is the senseless, inhumane setting in which same sex couples exist in many countries. Even with the protection of the law it's not a fun and games scenario.
So, having travelled over 30 hours to get back to where I am now based, two hours after landing at my local airport, I found myself in a piazza in Lecce at a demonstration.
And why was I there on Saturday? Because this week, the Italian parliament is due to debate the Renzi government's bill to introduce same sex civil unions. The bill is likely to be defeated? Why? Because of a provision for same sex couples to adopt which has courted the ire of the Catholic Church which is deeply entrenched in the Italian political system (and surprisingly, also incredibly powerful on the Australian political right- hence the failure to legislate despite overwhelming public consensus).
Now I am all for everybody having their own opinions. I believe it is your right as a persoon to choose not to agree with certain aspects of a wider society. I get that. I don't agree with it, but you as a person are entitled to your opinion. But in my books, what nobody is entitled to is the denial of an identical set of rights to another group of people or individuals. I respect and value your life and I expect you to do the same with me. And as a result I am infuriated by news in recent days that the Catholic church speared Family Day demonstations (as cynical a name as possible for an event which seeks to diminish any idea of a family that doesn't correspond to what the Catholic church defines as 'normal') are privvy to yet more rights at the expense of others. This time, transport group Italo is offering discounts to those in Italy who would like to attend the Family Day demonstration this coming Saturday in Rome. This on top of local churches who are offering a 50 euro picnic+demonstration package to parishioners who agree to attend the marches. Even the city of Rome's public transport group is offering discounts.
I made my own way to the demonstration on Saturday. I didn't get offered a discount for that, and I attended in part because I demand the right to be treated equally under the law as anyone else. What I don't appreciate is that aside from the ridiculous hipocrisy of the organisers of Family Day (the idea of a twice divorced, philandering politician and priests who have no idea what modern life resembles), their push to ensure that the GLBT community continues to live on the fringes of what is acceptable in society and by law is being backed by both public and private organizations. I won't even go into the idea that some churches are even offering a cash handout to those who are willing to head to Rome for the day.
All that is left to ask is, is this the kind of world that we should be living in today in 2016? How is this acceptable in any place in the world? Appalling. I'm not anti Catholic, but I tell you what, living in Italy really makes me wonder whether common sense simply suggests I should be.