Italy’s Highest Court: Calling Someone Gay Is Not Libel

By Vito J. Marzano, Productions Editor, Pace International Law Review

Rome, Italy – On November 29, 2016, the Italian Supreme Court of Cassation quashed a libel suit finding that labeling someone a homosexual is no longer “intrinsically offensive.”[1] The Cassation Court acknowledged that in the not-so-distant past, the term was used as an insult, but labeling someone a homosexual is now a “neutral character” used to describe an individual, and therefore it no longer causes harm to an individual’s reputation.[2] The Cassation Court held, “Merely attributing this quality to an individual to describe their sexual orientation does not in itself harm their reputation.”[3] LGBTQ civil rights groups, however, claim that the ruling may be misinterpreted as sanctioning anti-LGBTQ slurs, primarily aimed at youth.[4]

Within the United States, some state courts have previously wrestled with this issue. In 2012, a New York appellate court held that labeling someone as a homosexual does not constitute defamation per se, citing evolving public opinion of homosexuality.[5] In 1994, the North Carolina Court of Appeals held that it was “[u]nable to rule the bare allegation that an individual is ‘gay’ or ‘bisexual constitutes today an accusation which … holds that individual up to disgrace, ridicule, or contempt,’” but that if an individual can prove actual damages, then a suit may proceed.[6] Nevertheless, only thirteen years ago Tom Cruise successfully brought a defamation suit based on allegations that he is a homosexual.[7]

Some LGBTQ individuals will praise courts that continue to find that calling someone gay does not impute something shameful, but others will continue to criticize such decisions as ignoring the intent behind falsely labeling someone a homosexual. What remains plausible, however, is that as LGBTQ individuals continue to gain social and legal acceptance, then the stigma that once existed and allowed for defamation suits will continue to evaporate.



[1] Calling someone gay ‘not an insult’, ANSA: English (Nov. 29, 2016, 5:50 PM),

[2] Id.

[3] ‘Homosexual’ no longer offensive, rules Italy’s top court, The New Indian Express (Nov. 30, 2016, 10:30 AM),

[4] Id.

[5] Yonaty v. Mincolla, 97 A.D.3d 141, 144–45 (App. Div. 3d Dep’t. 2012), leave to appeal denied, 97 A.D.3d 141 (N.Y. 2013).

[6] Donovan v. Fiumara, 442 S.E.2d 572, 589 (N.C. Ct. App. 1994)

[7] Stephen M. Silverman, Cruise Wins $10 Million in Gay Lawsuit, People: Celebrity (Jan. 16, 2013, 11:00 AM),


  1. As the LGBTQ community gains social and legal acceptance, hopefully, terms like this is something of the past. While the term itself is “not harmful”, what needs to be considered is the manner and context it is used it.

  2. It is an interesting conundrum. The LGBTQ community is still subject to discrimination for being LGBTQ, so falsely accusing someone of being LGBTQ could come with negative consequences and justice should be available for such an individual. But perhaps acknowledging that discrimination against the LGBTQ community exists in such cases will also allow the LGBTQ community to get more protection from discrimination. Great article!

  3. Well-written post about the evolving public opinion of homosexuality and insight into the reactions of the LGBTQ community. Hope to one day see acceptance of all people regardless of their sexual orientation, religion or race.

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