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UN commissioner blasts Italy

Vote to scrap gay protection law 'a step back for rights'

14 October, 22:41

(ANSA) - Rome, October 14 - The Italian Senate's vote to throw out a bill aimed at protecting gays from hate-crimes is a step backward for human rights, United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay said Wednesday.

''Gays and lesbians deserve full protection under the law,'' said Pillay, adding that governments should take extra measures ''to protect them from violence and discrimination''.

The bill, which would have raised penalties against acts of violence motivated by homophobia, was torpedoed in the Senate on Tuesday on the grounds that it gave unequal protection to gays in violation of the constitution.

The head of gay-rights group Arcigay Aurelio Mancuso called the vote a ''shameful display which humiliates the dignity of homosexuals''.

The vote unleashed a firestorm within the opposition Democratic Party (PD), which put the law forward, when one if its key senators, Paola Binetti, voted to scrap the bill.

The Catholic senator justified her vote Wednesday saying that ''the bill was ambiguous'' and that she had ''voted in line with her conscience''.

Following Tuesday's session, the bill's author and gay rights advocate Paola Concia said she was ''ashamed of the parliament''.

Concia also called on the PD ''to choose between my position and Binetti's''.

''The party has to tell me whose side it's on,'' demanded Concia during an Italian television interview, adding that the ''state has to tell its citizens that homophobia is a crime''.

Interim party Secretary Dario Franceschini said that Binetti's vote ''made her presence in the PD a serious problem''.

A number of senators of the majority voted in favour of the bill, which has garnered support from more liberal-minded members of the centre-right including House Speaker Gianfranco Fini.

After the bill was thrown out, Welfare Minister Mariastella Carfagna said that she would present the cabinet with a new bill for harsher penalties on all crimes motivated by discrimination ''including those against gays''.

Italy has seen a wave of anti-gay attacks this year, the most recent this weekend when a couple of men holding hands were attacked by a gang of young men in the center of Rome.

Photo: A protest in Rome after the Senate's vote

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