Rome, Nov 30: The word “homosexual” is now a neutral word and can no longer be considered offensive, Italy’s highest appeals court said on Tuesday, quashing a libel conviction against a 60-year-old man. “Unlike other words with the same meaning that are clearly intended to be derogatory, the term now has a intrinsically neutral meaning,” the Court of Cassation said in its ruling.

“The term ‘homosexual’ has not retained an inherently offensive connotation that it could perhaps have had in a not even too distant past,” the ruling stated. “Merely attributing this quality to an individual to describe their sexual orientation does not in itself harm their reputation,” the ruling continued.

The court cancelled a fine that the defendant had been ordered to pay by a lower court in Trieste last year after he was convicted of slander when he called another man “homosexual” during an argument. Gay rights groups slammed Tuesday’s ruling however, saying it could be interpreted as sanctioning slurs against gay people especially youngsters who are vulnerable to victimisation and bullying in schools.

“In Italy there is no law against homophobia that bans discriminatory insults as exist in other countries,” said the Gay Centre’s spokesman Fabrizio Marrazzo. “This ruling would be clearer if such legislation was in place,” he added