A controversy erupted in Italy on Wednesday when a right-wing parliamentarian outlined his opposition to same-sex marriage and said the Bible considered homosexuality "an abomination".
Lucio Malan, 62, is the Senate's chief whip for Brothers of Italy, a nationalist party headed by Giorgia Meloni -- who was elected as Italy's Prime Minister back in September.
The Turin-born politician made the comments Tuesday on Rai Radio 1 show 'Un giorno da pecora' after being confronted over his rejection of both same-sex marriage and an anti-homophobia bill which the Senate voted down last October.
"I [was] against the bill," he said, describing his decision to join Meloni's hard-line conservatives last year after having left Berlusconi's moderate Forza Italia force -- part of Draghi's former big-tent government -- because it had to "toe a line... that was too close to the political left".
The show's presenters further probed Malan, who is a member of the Waldensian Evangelical Church -- a small and historically persecuted north Italian Protestant denomination with a liberal outlook on social issues -- over why he would oppose same-sex marriage, despite his own church's acceptance of gay relationships.
"We aren't obliged to obey [the church]," he replied. "The Waldensian Evangelical church... is founded on the Bible and not on its hierarchy."
"[The Bible] says that homosexuality is an abomination and a series of other things," he added, referencing a verse from the Old Testament (Leviticus 18:22).
Malan's comments sparked a furore that united Italy's fragmented opposition, generating critical responses from most parties as well as LGBTQ associations and even Catholic theologians.
"In any Western country, Malan would have already been removed from his role as chief whip by the party secretary," tweeted Carlo Calenda, leader of the centrist Azione, Tuesday morning.
The populist Five Star Movement's own chief whip in the Senate, Barbara Floridia, described Malan's remarks as "despicable" and "bewildering".
Alessandro Zan, a centre-left MP and author of the unsuccessful anti-homophobia bill in question, further asked if Malan's was "also the position of Giorgia Meloni and the government's leading party?"
Meloni herself has not yet commented on the controversy. The fresh-faced PM shares Malan's opposition to same-sex marriage on legal grounds but has repeatedly denounced homophobia throughout her career.
In response to the outcry, the Brothers of Italy Senator retweeted a comment on Twitter which implied his words were taken out of context and claimed that he was merely citing the Bible.
But one Catholic academic and Biblical expert, Alberto Maggi, even took issue with the supposed theological and historical inaccuracy of Malan's remarks.
"The term 'homosexuality' does not exist in the Bible," he said. "The oft-cited Leviticus verses don't deal with homosexuality... what they [talk about] has nothing to do with individual sexuality, but rather the issue of procreation, which was very important in that culture."
The public clamour over Malan's statement represents one in a long string of homophobia-related controversies involving Brothers of Italy -- a political force that is often accused of harbouring neo-fascists. Back in 2013, the party was lambasted for an inflammatory video released by its candidates in Veneto, while a pregnant Meloni in 2016 publicly stated she would "rather not" have a gay child.