|Monday, June 12, 2000||
Volume 65, Issue 150
Hall on women at the Indy 500
Ed De La Garza
Pride in the Vatican
When in Rome, do as the Romans. An old phrase that Rome hasn't strayed too far from these days.
And nowhere is it more evident than in the recent actions taken by Vatican City officials to stifle gay and lesbian celebrations in Italy.
The image of 300,000 gay pride participants marching through Vatican City has done more than put a wrinkle in the robes of more than 400,000 religious pilgrims in church-state relations in Italy.
To celebrate Gay and Lesbian Pride month, Houston is holding scores of events June 9-24, including a parade down Westheimer on the last day of festivities.
Overseas, however, the center of the Roman Catholic world is set to become the focus of the gay and lesbian world.
And the choice of Rome as host for the first international gay pride week has sparked a national debate about the still largely taboo issue of homosexuality, and the issue of freedom of expression.
Citing ongoing millennial holy year celebrations, church officials and a number of Italian politicians have asked that the gay rights event -- scheduled to begin July 1 -- be canceled, or at least postponed.
Opponents of the event have done more than just ask for postponement; they achieved a small victory when they persuaded police to divert a July 8 city-wide march away from the Coliseum, stating they were concerned with possible violence from counter demonstrators.
The safety issue appears to be more of a smokescreen used by politicians to save face and please church officials than a measure of caution to avoid violence from those living in what is supposed to be such a holy place.
This type of diversion has limited group demonstrations in the past, when other cities have tried to limit demonstrators with unpopular views.
In most frameworks, however, no matter how much city officials limit time, place and manner of a demonstration, they cannot by U.S. law limit content.
And that is the tool of choice many unpopular groups use to lever their freedom of expression rights.
Even hate groups as unpopular as the Ku Klux Klan can manage to get time for demonstration, citing its content right. It is, however, often limited on time, place and manner.
Because the church has always considered Italy as its own territory and tried to influence national politics there, it should be of concern that it is setting an example and that other cities might follow suit by inhibiting unpopular speech and expression.
And because, like in Italy, there is sometimes no legal protection for those facing discrimination such as that based on sexual orientation, it is of even greater import that such acts of intolerance and disregard toward a group of people not be imitated.