For LGBT Rights, Is Pope Francis a Partisan or Not?

February 25, 2016
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Pope Francis

Should the pope be political and/or partisan or not? Pope Francis’ trip to Mexico raised these questions after he challenged whether Donald Trump could be considered Christian. The question also bears on LGBT issues, particularly in Italy where legislators are debating the legalization of civil unions.

Pope Francis gave an in-flight interview returning from Mexico, as he regularly does when apostolic journeys conclude. When asked about the civil unions issue in Italy by Il Sole 24’s Carlo Marroni, the pope responded:

“First of all, I don’t know how things stand in the thinking of the Italian parliament. The Pope doesn’t get mixed up in Italian politics. At the first meeting I had with the (Italian) bishops in May 2013, one of the three things I said was: with the Italian government you’re on your own. Because the pope is for everybody and he can’t insert himself in the specific internal politics of a country. This is not the role of the pope, right? And what I think is what the Church thinks and has said so often – because this is not the first country to have this experience, there are so many – I think what the Church has always said about this.”

From this answer, one would believe the pope refrains from partisan engagement over specific policy questions, and this would include legal recognition of same-gender couples in Italy. But Francis’ record is not so clear. Here are a few relevant facts to consider.

First, in Italy, he has refrained from explicitly condemning civil unions or using the church’s influence to lean on Catholic politicians. This approach directly refutes some Italian bishops’ highly partisan campaigning and is notably different from his predecessors, said theologian Massimo Faggioli. But speaking to the Roman Rota in January, Pope Francis offered his strongest criticism yet of marriage equality saying “there can be no confusion between the family as willed by God, and every other type of union.” This was seen by some observers as a comment on Italy’s civil union debate.

Second, Pope Francis has commented on the “specific internal politics of a country” at least twice before when it comes to LGBT rights. In Slovenia in December 2015, during the week of a national referendum which eventually banned marriage equality and adoption rights by same-gender couples, Pope Francis encouraged all Slovenians, especially those in public life, “to preserve the family” .  A similar moment happened in February 2015 when the pontiff exhorted pilgrims from Slovakia to “continue their efforts in defense of the family,”  just days before an unsuccessful referendum in that nation against equal marriage and adoption rights.

Third, Pope Francis often speaks through gestures, actions, or the statements of his surrogates. For instance, this week, in the midst of the Italian civil unions debate, Vatican Secretary of State Cardinal Pietro Parolin said it was “essential” that Italian law differentiate between civil unions for same-gender couples and marriage for heterosexual couples.

It helps to remember, too, that Pope Francis is a solitary person shepherding 1.3 billion people, and that his voice can be used and misused, making it hard to know at times what comes from Francis and what comes from contrary parties.

Fourth, and finally, when called upon to be a voice for marginalized LGBT people, Pope Francis has remained silent. Advocates pleaded with him to speak against laws criminalizing homosexuality during his apostolic voyage to Kenya, Nigeria, and the Central African Republic last fall. Advocates have asked him to intervene in the Dominican Republic, where a cardinal has repeatedly used anti-gay slurs against U.S. Ambassador James Brewster. Last week, this blog commented that the case of Cameroon bishops calling for “zero tolerance” of homosexuality was a perfect case for papal intervention.

From my perspective, these facts suggest, despite the pope’s latest claim, the lack of a consistent position for Pope Francis when it comes to partisan involvement in a given nation’s politics. Pope Francis is, rightly I believe, a politically engaged pontiff and affirmed that to be human is to be political. But he has been partisan where it may be imprudent and even inappropriate for him to be so engaged. The damage U.S. bishops have done to the church in their country. because of their hyper-partisan agenda in recent years, is a cautionary tale. I speculate on two possibilities for why Pope Francis lacks a consistent position.

More negatively, it could be that he claims distance when convenient, and becoming more involved when similarly convenient. He chooses whether to speak about LGBT issues depending on whether he will obtain a positive reception from the audience. Could it be that Pope Francis changes not just the style, but the substance of his messaging depending on who is listening? That would be troubling.

More positively, maybe the humble Pope Francis is learning “on the job” as he navigates unprecedented reforms in a church that is now truly global and truly hurting. His inconsistencies arise because he admits to not having the answers and to shifting course when a better way forward appears apparent. Francis’ actions could reveal a leader who is willing to listen to others’ voices and to encounter those from different perspectives. That would be refreshing.

What do you think? Should the pope be involved in partisan national politics? If so, when? Should the pope be political, raising up issues without endorsing specific policy positions? Should the pope be neither? Leave your thoughts in the ‘Comments’ section below.

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry


Italian Prime Minister Rebukes Cardinal Over Civil Unions Involvement

February 24, 2016
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Prime Minister Matteo Renzi

Italy’s prime minister rebuked a Catholic cardinal for his involvement in the nation’s debate over civil unions, and suggested his government would call a confidence vote to advance the stalled bill.

Prime Minister Matteo Renzi criticized Cardinal Angelo Bagnasco’s interference after the cardinal, who heads the Italian Episcopal Conference, said the Italian Senate should employ a secret ballot when voting on the civil unions bill. Renzi told state radio RAI:

” ‘Parliament decides whether or not to allow secret votes … not the head of the bishops’ conference. . .What is there to fear from two people who love each other? Why not give these rights to two people who love each other? The majority of the country is clearly in favor of it.’ “

Despite Bagnasco’s claim that a secret ballot would allow legislators a conscience vote, Business Insider reported that a secret ballot “could sabotage the legislation” if legislators vote against their party’s platform.

Prime Minister Renzi is correct that 70% of Italians endorse legal protections for those in same-gender partnerships, but the civil unions bill has been stalled due to disputes over adoption rights. Only 24% of Italians support allowing same-gender partners to adopt each other’s biological children, and even in Renzi’s own center-left Democratic Party there is resistance to legalize adoptions.

Renzi dropped the adoption provision from the civil unions bill. LGBT advocates criticized this action, saying it guts the bill and leaves children unprotected. They are expected to demonstrate in Rome today.

Renzi, who is Catholic, said he would call a confidence vote to jumpstart the bill in the Senate, where opposition legislators have drowned it in amendments. The confidence vote is risky because, if lost, Renzi and his party would face elections after only two years in office. But the prime minister is clear that LGBT rights are an essential part of his reform platform and the “debating game being played in the Senate” must end, reported The Telegraph. Addressing his party, Renzi reiterated:

” ‘The issue of civil rights is the biggest challenge currently for us. . .we have two alternatives. . .My proposal. . .is for governing parties to try to reach an accord and put forward an amendment on which I believe we must be ready to call a confidence vote.’ “

Matteo Renzi is a high-profile lay Catholic advancing LGBT justice in Italy, but as Bondings 2.0 noted a few weeks ago, unlike Catholics in other European nations like Ireland, the laity in Italy are split on the matter of civil unions.  Nearly 300,000 Italians rallied in Rome earlier this month during the church-supported Family Day protests.

Italy remains the only Western European nation to not grant legal protections to same-gender partners, a status criticized formally by both the Italian courts and the European Court of Human Rights. To read Bondings 2.0‘s full coverage of LGBT rights in Italy, click here.

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry


Lay Catholics in Italy Split on Civil Unions Question

January 31, 2016
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Outside the Pantheon in Rome, equality supporters, including Catholics, call for civil unions to be legalized.

YesterdayBondings 2.0 explored how Pope Francis and the Italian hierarchy have engaged that nation’s present debate about civil unions for same-sex couples. One theologian’s analysis was that, for Pope Francis, this was an issue best left to the laity. Today’s post explores just how the laity have been involved and what their involvements could mean.

Italian Catholics on both sides of the civil unions question have participated in major demonstrations. Nearly a million LGBT supporters rallied on January 23 in public squares across Italy, bringing clocks with them to call on legislators to “wake up” about the necessity of recognizing same-gender partners in law. Rome’s Gay Center spokesperson Fabrizio Marrazzo said the 100+ demonstrations signal Italy’s “crisis point. . .about civil rights,” reported the National Catholic Reporter.

Among those experiencing this crisis is Andrea Rubera, a married gay Catholic in Rome, whose story, told in The New York Times ,reveals the urgent necessity of legal protections. Rubera married his partner, Dario De Gregorio, in Canada, and they became parents to three children. The Times article explained:

“But when they returned to their native Italy, a transformation occurred. Mr. Rubera suddenly became a single man, and his legally recognized husband in Canada became his single male roommate in Italy. Italian law also divided custody of their children.”

Of this, Rubera commented:

” ‘There are major injustices coming from this, all toward the kids. . .We are dreaming to be recognized as we are — as a family.’ “

Despite this reality, support for civil unions is declining, if the polls are accurate. Latest numbers have support below 50% whereas it peaked at 67% or higher last May, a decline tied to a clause supporting stepchild adoption for same-gender couples, according to some pundits. Attempting to assuage critics, the civil unions bill was watered down, reported Crux, when sponsors added “language clearly distinguishing the relationships from marriage” and other amendments.

Yesterday, groups and individuals against civil unions took part in “Family Day” protests, which received support from some church leaders, including Italian Episcopal Conference President, Cardinal Angelo Bagnasco. According to Crux’s John Allen, lay support for conservative church leaders is one reason that the Catholic Church “still has significant social capital and packs a political punch” in Italy. He wrote:

“That doesn’t mean the Italian Church wins all the time; famously, it lost referenda in 1974 over divorce and in 1981 over abortion, and prevailed in 2005 over stem cell research only by persuading Italians not to vote in order to invalidate the ballot.

“Yet Mass-going Catholics remain a sizable chunk of the national population and are well represented in both major political parties, and their sentiments have to be at least considered.”

Yet, simply citing that Catholics are politically involved is not sufficient evidence that LGBT rights will fail. It may actually be evidence for the contrary, as Out Magazine noted:

“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. “

Ireland’s referendum and the marriage victories in many historically Catholic countries and states, aided in most cases by lay Catholics’ fervent efforts for equality, are true. But this is Italy, where the church’s political hold remains stronger due to the Vatican’s influence. With lay Catholics active both for and against civil unions, with Pope Francis advancing a more nuanced response, and with Italy’s bishops not united in strong opposition, it seems unclear just what influence Italian Catholics will have on Tuesday’s expected vote.

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry


Are Civil Unions Coming to Italy? Pope Francis & Bishops Hope Not

January 30, 2016
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Pope Francis

Italy’s Parliament began debating civil unions for same-gender couples this week. Whatever the outcome of a vote expected next Tuesday, Catholics have and will continue to play an essential role in the debate. In a two-part story (today and tomorrow), Bondings 2.0 will highlight Catholics’ varying responses to the potential for same-sex unions being recognized next door to the Vatican.

First, and inevitably, there is speculation about how Pope Francis will engage civil unions in Italy. In a speech to the Roman Rota last week, the pope rejected any legal recognition of same-gender relationships, using his strongest language to date. How to interpret his remarks remains disputed and some have suggested, according to The Washington Post, that his comments had nothing at all to do with Italy’s current debate. Theologian Massimo Faggioli, writing in Commonweal, commented that the pope’s address was notably different from his predecessors who would explicitly comment on Italian politics and reference “non-negotiable values.”

In The Washington Post story, Anthony Faiola compared Francis’ approach to Benedict XVI’s response to a civil unions proposal in 2007:

“As Italy now undertakes its most serious effort yet to legalize civil unions, the more nuanced response of the Vatican in its own back yard is turning the bill into a test case for whether Francis’s inclusive tone can translate to change on the ground.

” ‘My impression is that the pope is determined not to be confrontational and fight this law,’ said Massimo Franco, a Vatican watcher and columnist for Italy’s Corriere della Sera.”

Faggioli also sees a distinct difference, noting that Pope Francis was “not directly endorsing the upcoming Family Day [protests],” not appealing to Italian politicians or Catholics directly on the matter, and emphasizing repeatedly that the matter is “in the hands of the Catholic laity.”

Faggioli also identified a split in Italy’s Church between “Pope Francis Catholics” and “those who favor a more muscular response.” In Faggioli’s analysis, Francis’ foremost aim here is “protecting the authority of the pope from any attempt to manipulate it” by Italy’s bishops. He wrote:

“Italian bishops are divided, and the once-powerful lay movements are divided between progressives afraid to go on the record in favor of legislation on same-sex unions or same-sex marriage, and those who continue to use the rhetoric of the culture war and plan to descend on Rome for the rally. The paradox is that the only Catholics who are responding to Francis’s call for the engagement of the laity in public issues are those who use the bellicose language that Francis makes a point of eschewing. Catholics who welcome Francis’s style and ecclesiology are now less organized and less motivated to stake out visible positions in the church and in politics.”

Less nuanced, but still changing, is the response from Italy’s bishops who “have largely sided with the opposition” and helped rally anti-LGBT support. The Post noted, however, that the Italian Episcopal Conference “is not directly sponsoring” a planned protest against civil unions this weekend.

Bishop Nunzio Galantino, the Conference’s general secretary, told Corriere della Sera that society must acknowledge somehow the “growing presence of unions of a different kind” becaue “the state has a duty to give answers to everyone, respecting the common good first.” The newspaper also noted another important fact:

“The Italian news media took note when Francis abruptly canceled a meeting with Cardinal Angelo Bagnasco of Genoa, the president of the Italian bishops conference, after he publicly backed the Family Day protest.”

What impact is all this having on the civil unions debate? Gabrielle Piazzoni of ARCIGAY, an Italian LGBT equality organization, said Pope Francis has had “a meaningful influence” because:

” ‘It’s clear to everyone that the Holy See does not intend to openly support the call to arms coming from other Catholics in Italy.”

If civil unions are approved, Italy will be the last nation in Western Europe (minus Vatican City) to extend legal rights to same-gender couples. The nation faces increasing European pressure to recognize same-gender couples. Last year, the European Court of Human Rights ruled that Italy violated LGB human rights by not doing so. Some LGBT advocates say civil unions are a compromise, but admit marriage equality remains unrealistic in a country where ecclesial politics are intimately tied to civil politics.

Though the Parliament’s house will likely pass the bill, it is unknown whether there will be enough support in the Senate, particularly if a clause allowing adoption of children biologically tied to one partner is included.

Tomorrow’s post will look more closely at Italian Catholics have been involved in the civil unions debate.

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry


Pope Francis Makes Strong Statement Opposing Marriage Equality

January 24, 2016

In what may be his most explicit rejection of the legitimacy of same-gender marriage, Pope Francis rejected the notion that any new forms of legal unions for couples can be accepted,

In a speech to the Roman Rota, the Vatican tribunal which judges, among other things, marriage annulment requests, the pope said that the recent two synods on the family

“told the world that there can be no confusion between the family as willed by God, and every other type of union”.

Pope Francis

Ansa.it reported the news, noting that the pope elaborated on his comments:

“The Church continues to propose marriage in its essentials – offspring, good of the couple, unity, indissolubility, sacramentality – not as ideal only for a few – notwithstanding modern models centered on the ephemeral and the transient – but as a reality that can be experienced by all the baptized faithful.”

PinkNews.co.uk reported that he also said:

“The family, founded on indissoluble matrimony that unites and allows procreation, is part of God’s dream and that of his Church for the salvation of humanity.”

As noted by several journalists, what makes the pontiff’s comments even more significant is that they come just as the Italian parliament is debating a bill to allow civil unions for lesbian and gay couples.

John Allen, writing at Crux, agreed that the timing of the pope’s speech in relation to the Italian bill is significant, but he also noted that it could also show that Francis will not be liberalizing rules about annulments or communion for divorced/remarried Catholics.

Allen wrote:

“The pope’s comments also suggested an important dose of perspective on his recent reform of the annulment process, intended to make it faster, easier to navigate, and cheaper. In effect, Francis seemed to be saying that what he wants is a more user-friendly system, but not necessarily a looser one.”

After reviewing the main points of the speech, Allen commented:

‘. . . .it does not suggest a pope who finds the present discipline on marriage unrealistic, or one who believes that the grounds for annulling a marriage need to be significantly expanded.”

While the pope has opposed political initiatives for same-gender marriage (he spoke out specifically on the matter when it was being discussed in Slovakia and Slovenia),  his latest statement may be his most specific statement on the matter as a theological topic.

Is this latest speech an indication that the pope will take a more conservative approach to LGBT issues in his anticipated response to the synods on family?  Clearly, it indicates that he will not be supporting marriage equality as a political or ecclesial option.  But that was never something that anyone expected from his synod response.  In discussing LGBT issues, the synods did not touch on the definition of marriage in the Church’s discourse, so it was unlikely that there would be any progress in that regard in the pope’s response.

But the synods did talk about pastoral outreach to lesbian and gay people and their families. I think there is a good chance that Pope Francis will be generous in regard to pastoral ministry for LGBT people.  Almost all of his previous statements on pastoral ministry indicate that he sees it as an important step for church leaders to take.  Moreover, his personal witness, such as meeting with his former student who is in a committed gay relationship, indicates that he could very much encourage church leaders to follow his example.  Pope Francis’ actions often speak louder than his words.

His clear statement against marriage equality in the midst of a political debate about civil unions in Italy, however, is very disappointing.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry

Related article:

 

The Guardian: “Pope Francis defends ‘traditional’ marriage ahead of Italy civil unions vote”


Peruvian Archbishop’s Apology for Anti-Gay Slur Makes Thing Worse

March 19, 2015
Today is the last day to answer our ten-second poll on Pope Francis’ LGBT record by clicking here

A Peruvian archbishop recently did three things that members of the hierarchy rarely do:  1) he used a derogatory slang word for gay men in an interview;  2) he apologized for doing so; 3) in apologizing, he made matters even worse.  [Editor’s note: this blog posts repeats the offending word in texts quoted from newspapers.]

Archbishop Luis Bambarén

The Peruvian Times reported that Archbishop Luis Bambarén, retired from the Chimbote diocese in Peru, referred to one of that nation’s lawmakers as a “maricon,” the Spanish equivalent of “faggot.”  The bishop made that statement against Carlos Bruce, a national legislator, who was championing a bill, which was defeated, that would have established legal civil unions.

The Times offered this quote from the archbishop in a statement he made opposing the bill:

“Congressman Carlos Bruce is making a fool of himself with all of this, appearing – excuse me for the term –  like a faggot in the middle of everything. He himself has said he is gay. Gay is not the Peruvian word, the word is faggot .” [The archbishop’s statement was originally in Spanish; this text is a translation from The Peruvian Times.]

Carlos Bruce

Bruce’s response was measured, and he asked for an apology:

“Bruce responded that the bishop’s comments ‘reflect the hate that is typical of homophobia,’ and said he was disappointed a representative of the Catholic Church, apparently lacking arguments, now resorts to insults.

“Bruce added that Bambarén’s statement is not in line with the position of Pope Francis. ‘It bothers me that he insults 3 million Peruvians who share with me the same orientation,’ Bruce said. ‘I hope he apologizes.’ ”

And, in fact, Bambarén did apologize.  According to The Times, the archbishop wrote in a statement:

“ ‘I respect and embrace those born homosexual and ask the same of their families and society,’ the statement said. ‘If homosexual people felt offended, I apologize and I pray for them.’ ”

But, according to La Republica, the bishop also added a few more sentences to his statement:

” ‘I have respect for all individuals. I never insult anyone and hatred has never taken place in my heart. Therefore I have not intended to offend anyone. But if someone is gay and boasts about his situation publicly, then in our Peruvian language it is not the same, it is not an offense.’ “

Presumably, the archbishop means that it is not an offense to use “maricon” if the person admits he is gay.  Just his use of the word “boast” indicates that he has a negative view of someone revealing his orientation.

Bruce responded by saying that he did not accept the apology.  According to Diario Correo, Bruce said:

” ‘I do not accept this apology, I respect him, he is a bishop of the Catholic Church when you apologize, apologize, not in these terms,’ ​​he told reporters.

“Carlos Bruce said after reading the statement of Bishop Emeritus of Chimbote, he was sure that Luis Bambarén will continue saying ‘faggot’ to anyone who publicly say he’s gay.

” ‘I’ve read the document presented by the Archbishop Bambarén, . . .  and really the writing of this document leaves much to be desired.’ “

Bambarén’s half-hearted apology reveals that he has not learned anything from this incident.  His statement is the equivalent of “That’s what everybody calls them,”  an excuse that holds no merit and for which children are often reprimanded.

An apology is in order, similar to one made by an Irish bishop recently for his insensible statements about gay parents and comparing a homosexual orientation to Down’s syndrome and spina bifida.  And just like happened to that Irish bishop, a reprimand from Bambarén’s superiors and brother bishops is needed.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry

 


Italian Transgender Relationship Tests Church and State Definitions of Marriage

June 21, 2014

A transgender marriage case in Italy may be paving the way for that nation to legalize civil unions, despite the powerful opposition of the Catholic hierarchy there to such an action.

The second Alessandra Bernaroli

The Daily Beast reported recently that 20 years ago, Alessandro Bernaroli married his wife, Alessandra, though he knew that he had gender questions about himself.   Alessandra supported her spouse’s decision to go through gender reassignment surgery, and the couple decided to stay together after Alessandro began to identify also as Alessandra.  Despite their love, the two Alessandras ran into some legal problems, but not for wrong.  The Daily Beast  explains:

“When Bernaroli officially changed her name and gender when she renewed her identity card, the Bologna court annulled the marriage. The couple appealed the unwanted divorce and lost again, but now Italy’s high court overturned the ruling, allowing them to stay married.”

So, though civil unions are still not legal in Italy, the Bernarolis, who live in Bologna, are still legally united.   More importantly, though the debate about civil unions had not moved forward, the Italian court, in their decision about the case, asked Italian legislators to make some accommodations for same-gender couples:

“In its ruling last week, the high court said it was aiming to balance ‘the State’s interest in not changing the model of heterosexual marriage with the interest of the couple where one of the two components changes sex.’ The court also asked Italian lawmakers to explore an ‘alternative’ form of marriage to accommodate such same-sex couples.”

In Italy, the Catholic hierarchy has been one of the strongest opponents to civil unions.  However, the church has not annulled the Bernarolis’ marriage. The reason, though, is not because they recognize this as a same-gender relationship, but because they do not recognize gender re-assignment, so they still consider one of the partners to be male.

The Bernarolis are optimistic, though, because of Pope Francis’ more welcoming approach to same-gender couples:

“.  .  . [T]he Alessandras now hope that Pope Francis will use their historic case to preach acceptance and maybe one day recognize same-sex unions. ‘The Catholic Church has said that our marriage is still valid,’ Bernaroli said after the high court’s ruling. ‘We want to make an appeal to all Catholics to go out in the streets to defend the rights of the family, of our family. And also make an appeal to the pope, who seems so open and innovative, because he listens to so many people in trouble, the poor, the discriminated against. Why not call us, too?’ “

Some may find this arrangement unusual, but it is not as uncommon as one might think.  For example, for those who attended either New Ways Ministry’s 2012 National Symposium in Baltimore, or either one of our two transgender workshops this past year, they would have heard from Hilary Howes, a Catholic transgender woman, whose previously heterosexual marriage to her wife, Celestine, remained solid when Hilary transitioned.

You can read about Hilary’s journey and her relationship with Celestine in More than a Monologue: Sexual Diversity and the Catholic Churchpublished this year by Fordham University Press.

Not all marriages that involve a gender transition remain intact, but some do.  For the Bernarolis, like Hilary and Celestine, there was some initial concern and questioning, but upon reflection, both couples found that their love was as strong as ever:

“ ‘It’s obvious that some things have changed in our marriage,’ Bernaroli’s wife told the court. ‘But she is still the same person I married. We share the same ideals, and that’s what counts when you share a life together. We have survived because we have a strong love connection.’ ”

The news site Gayapolis.com had a fitting commentary on this case which serves as a good closing message:

“It’s rare that the fight for transgender rights advances ahead of the fight for marriage equality. Wouldn’t it be a wonderful thing if this case helped bring about both?”

 

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry

Related article:

PinkNews.com: “Italian trans woman fights for right to remain in same-sex marriage”


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