opposition leaders reacted angrily Friday to a request by
the senate's center-left majority to give unmarried
couples, including gays, some of the same rights as
married couples, and they promised to fight a move
they said would be harmful to families and Italy's
Roman Catholic tradition. The issue is a divisive one
in a nation that is home to the Vatican and is still
influenced by church positions. It is also sensitive
for the coalition of Premier Romano Prodi, which ranges from
Christian Democrats to anti-Vatican radicals and has
struggled to find a consensus on the matter.
At issue is a decision Thursday by the majority
in the senate, which called unanimously on the
government to come up with legislation for all
unmarried couples by the end of next month. Barbara
Pollastrini, equal opportunities minister, issued a
statement Friday saying the government would do so by
the end of January.
"This is an answer to a maiden prayer for the
right because it's something they can raise a big
stink about and take attention away from the issue of
money and who is responsible for the debt," said James
Walston, political science professor at the American
University in Rome.
The response from the opposition was swift. "We
will fight this in parliament and in the country,
getting the moderate, Catholic, and non-Catholic
groups, involved," Pier Ferdinando Casini, a Christian
Democrat and opposition leader, said in a statement carried
by Italian news agencies.
Among other things, the proposed legislation
would give unmarried couples, including gays,
inheritance rights, joint medical insurance, visiting
rights in prisons and hospitals, the right to carry on one
another's leases, and the right to make decisions in case
one partner becomes ill.
"There is one part of the majority that wants to
bring Italy closer to Zapatero's Spain, making the
regular family equal to homosexual cohabitants,"
Casini added, referring to the Socialist government of
Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero, which
legalized same-sex marriage last year and has pushed
through other liberal laws, including fast-track
divorce and less onerous terms for medically assisted fertilization.
"This is an offense to the identity of the
family and the Catholic principles of the majority of
Italians," Enrico La Loggia, a deputy with the
conservative Forza Italia party, was quoted as saying by the
ANSA news agency.
The senate's majority asked for the legislation
after it took out a reference to unmarried couples in
a fiscal measure contained in the proposed 2007
budget, which must be approved by parliament by the end of
the year. Prodi called the move a "step forward" in putting
the government's platform into effect and said
addressing the issue of unmarried unions was "crucial."
However, he has said his government would stop
short of endorsing same-sex marriage, which the
Vatican firmly opposes. About 90% of Italy's 58
million citizens are at least nominally Catholic. (Maria
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