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Italy's
opposition promises to battle proposed legislation giving
rights to unmarried couples

Italy's
opposition promises to battle proposed legislation giving
rights to unmarried couples

Italian 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 Sanminiatelli, AP)

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