Italian divorce referendum, 1974

Referendum on the Abrogation of the Divorce Law
12 May 1974
Do you want the Law of 1 December 1970, No. 898, on the regulation of cases of dissolution of marriage, to be abrogated?
Votes %
Yes 13,157,558 40.74%
No 19,138,300 59.26%
Valid votes 32,295,858 97.80%
Invalid or blank votes 727,321 2.20%
Total votes 33,023,179 100.00%
Registered voters/turnout 37,646,322 87.72%
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A referendum on the divorce law was held in Italy on 12 May 1974.[1] Voters were asked whether they wanted to repeal a government law passed three years earlier allowing divorce for the first time in modern Italian history. Those voting "yes" wanted to outlaw divorce as had been the case before the law came into effect, and those voting "no" wanted to retain the law and their newly gained right to divorce. The referendum was defeated by margin of 59.26% to 40.74% on a voter turnout of 87.72% out of 37 million eligible voters, thus allowing the divorce laws to remain in force.

This vote was the first of its kind in the country, being the first regular legislative referendum held by the Italian Republic 27 years after the Italian constitution, which allowed such referendums, was approved. It was considered a major victory for the civil rights and anti-clericalism movements, and for the Italian Radical Party.

Initial petitions

Signatures and petitions for the referendum were collected by Christian groups led by Gabrio Lombardo with very strong support from the Catholic church.

Political party positions

The Christian Democrats and the neo-fascist Italian Social Movement intensely campaigned for a yes vote to abolish the law and make divorce illegal again. Their main themes were the safeguarding of the traditional nuclear family model and the Roman Catechism.

Most left-wing political forces, the main ones being the Italian Socialist Party and the Italian Communist Party, supported the no faction.

Intense campaigning for a no vote also came from Marco Pannella of the Italian Radical Party which had been petitioning for a right to divorce in Italy since the early 1960s.

Confusion about voting methods

The voting method caused significant confusion with many people not understanding that they had to vote no to be able to divorce or vote "YES" to outlaw divorce. Some campaigners from the no camp stated without this confusion the no vote might have even been higher than the 59% obtained. (See double negative.)

Censorship on television

The Eurovision Song Contest 1974 held in April of that year was not transmitted on the Italian state television channel RAI because of Italy's entry, a song by Gigliola Cinquetti. Despite the contest taking place more than a month before the planned vote, and despite Cinquetti eventually winning second place, Italian censors refused the contest and song to be shown or heard. RAI censors felt the song, titled "" (Italian for "yes") and containing lyrics constantly repeating the word "Sì", could be accused of being a subliminal message and a form of propaganda to influence the Italian voting public to vote yes in the referendum. The song remained censored on most Italian state television and radio stations for over a month.


Choice Votes %
Invalid/blank votes727,321
Registered voters/turnout37,646,32287.72
Source: Ministry of the Interior
Popular vote
N Against
Y For

See also


  1. Dieter Nohlen & Philip Stöver (2010) Elections in Europe: A data handbook, p1048 ISBN 978-3-8329-5609-7
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