​Venice mayor bans books on homosexuality as Europe's gay marriage divide lingers

Reuters / Ralph Orlowski
The new mayor of Venice has officially banned books on the subjects of homosexuality and disability from the city's schools, prompting a wave of criticism. The city official made the blacklist promise during his mayoral campaign.

Mayor Luigi Brugnaro has banned a total of 49 books, including the French title “Jean Has Two Moms,” which centers around a wolf family with two mothers, a statement published Wednesday on the mayor's website says.

The blacklist unleashed a wave of criticism, with some organizations launching public readings of the banned books.

Several libraries are also encouraging people to read the banned titles, posting signs such as “blacklisted books, be a rebel, read them,” AFP reported.

Defending his move amid the flurry of criticism, Brugnaro said he will “not be intimidated,” adding that “parents need to educate their children on these things, and not schools.”

Brugnaro promised to ban the titles during his campaign leading up to the June elections.

Tensions within Italy

The move comes less than one month after hundreds of thousands of Italians gathered in Rome to rally against gay marriage. During the protest, many of the demonstrators shared the same views as Venice's new mayor.

"In my children's schools they are talking about families made up of two fathers or two mothers, without asking parents' permission," Giuseppe Ripa, 41, told AFP at the time. “It's dangerous and wrong.”

But while many believe the government is overstepping its authority by teaching children about homosexuality and going against the foundation of the “traditional family,” others believe that homosexuals are being deprived of their rights by the Italian government.

Laura Boldrini, president of the country's parliament, tweeted in May that being European “signifies recognizing rights.”

Others throughout Italy agree with Boldrini, and have put pressure on the Italian government to legalize gay marriage, following Ireland's historic 'yes' vote in the world's first marriage equality referendum.

Prime Minister Renzi supports the push for marriage equality, and the Italian senate is currently examining a civil union bill which Renzi hopes will be enacted before the end of July.

Same-sex couples currently have no legal status in Italy, although some mayors have begun adding gay unions performed in other countries to city hall records.

East-West divide

While Italy continues to be divided on the topic of homosexuality and gay marriage, that same disagreement is occurring all across Europe.

The division is most easily seen between Eastern and Western European countries.

Gay marriage is legal in several Western European nations – the Netherlands, Belgium, Spain, Sweden, Norway, Iceland, Denmark, France, UK, Estonia, Slovenia, Finland, Luxembourg, and Ireland.

Meanwhile, Austria, Germany, and Switzerland are considering marriage equality legislation, and gay marriage will be legal in Finland by March 2017.

Participants take part in a Gay Pride parade in Rome, Italy June 13, 2015. (Reuters / Alessandro Bianchi)

The legalization of gay marriage has been largely backed with broad public support in Western European nations.

According to a 2010 European Social Survey, more than 80 percent of respondents in France, Germany, Spain, and Great Britain agree that “gay men and lesbians should be free to live their own lives as they wish.”

Meanwhile, most Eastern European countries are overwhelmingly opposed to such laws.

The same poll revealed that the Czech Republic is the only Eastern European country where the majority (65 percent) of citizens strongly agree that “gay men and lesbians should be free to live their own lives as they wish.”

The amount of support drops from there, with Lithuania, Ukraine, and Russia providing the lowest rate of approval.

Meanwhile, a 2013 European Social Survey found Albania to be the most homophobic country of all the countries polled, with 53 percent stating their opposition to gays and lesbians “living free as they wish.”

That same year, a survey from the European Union Agency for Fundamental Rights revealed that one-quarter of European homosexuals surveyed said they had been subjected to attacks or violent threats in the past five years. Most of those took place in Eastern Europe, mainly in Croatia, Romania, and Bulgaria.

In the past, the Netherlands spurred controversy when its foreign minister reportedly stated that Russian homosexuals should be considered for asylum. However, he later said his remark was misinterpreted and not “directed at Russia.”

French fury at gay marriage

Although gay marriage is legal in France, opponents throughout the nation have been very vocal against the legislation.

A 2013 World Values Survey found that the country was the least tolerant Western European nation when it comes to homosexuality, with 28.8 percent of the population stating that they would not want a gay neighbor.

That number was in stark contrast to other Western European countries; only 3.6 percent of Swedish people and 7.4 percent of Spaniards had the same response.

The country has seen several large gay marriage protests in recent years, following the 2013 legalization of homosexual unions, with demonstrators accusing the Hollande government of “family phobia.”