Would You Lie to Protect Your Honor?

Carla is an Italian woman with a secret lover named Giovanni. The highest appeals court in Italy recently ruled that she is allowed to lie to keep him secret and her honor safe.

The private life of this 48-year-old woman was laid bare in a courtroom when Giovanni was arrested for making abusive phone calls to her husband, Vincenzo, from her mobile phone.

When asked whether Giovanni was her lover and whether she had lent him her phone, Carla said no and found herself convicted for false testimony. Her defense explained that she was somehow forced to lie, so not to affect the divorce she was going through.

The story didn't end there. Carla brought her case to the Court of Cassation, Italy's highest appeal court. The court, made up mostly of elderly male judges, ruled that she was entitled to lie to protect her honor.

In the Italian legal realm, this ruling is now the norm.

"There is nothing strange about it," lawyer Marco Orlando said in an interview with ABC News.

"Italian law states that no one can be forced to implicate oneself. The obligation to tell the truth has a legal limit. In this case the Court of Cassation has simply decided that this limit lies in the woman's right to defend her honor."

The court ruled that Carla had the right to cover up her affair because she risked damaging her image in the eyes of family and friends.

This marks a great change in a country where, until 1981, a father, husband or brother could kill his daughter, wife or sister and claim a softer sentence on the grounds that he had committed the crime to defend the family's respectability.

It was known as "delitto d'onore," Italian for honor crime, and legally it was considered a minor offense.

This decision appears to be a step toward gender equality and yet, according to L'Espresso Magazine's U.K. correspondent Annalisa Piras, it sounds better than it actually is.

According to the Italian journalist, men have been lying about their mistresses for centuries and now women have been granted the same right, but this doesn't correspond to a true achievement because it doesn't give women more power or more freedom.

"This ruling is a bit of a paradox. At first sight it gives women the same rights of men, the right to lie to defend their honor, but on the other hand it brings back a very traditional concept of honor, which is all about defending one's public image, while something else is going on, " Piras told ABC News.

She concluded that it's likely that Italian men cheating on their wives will "start to think, 'good for her. She managed to get the right to lie about her lover.' There will be a lot of laughing but there will also be a bit of anxiety in men thinking, 'maybe my wife is going to do it, too.'"