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Italy's governing
coalition split on rights for unmarried couples

Italy's governing
coalition split on rights for unmarried couples

Disagreement over the Italian government's plan to give legal rights to unmarried couples, including gay ones, exposed deep rifts in the governing center-left coalition days after it survived its worse political crisis. At the core of the problem is that members of Premier Romano Prodi's coalition range from Communists to Catholic centrists who often disagree on matters such as same-sex marriage and foreign policy and who command only a slim parliamentary majority, a weakness trumpeted by the conservative opposition as evidence that the Left cannot rule.

In the latest row, center-left politicians took sides for and against a fellow politician, Senator Paola Binetti, following remarks she made that were viewed as hostile to the gay community. "Homosexuality is a deviance of the personality," Binetti said during a television show on Italy's La7 channel on Saturday.

Her comment prompted the ire of lawmaker Franco Grillini, who is honorary president of the activist group Arcigay and who was a guest on the same television show. "You are using scientific rubbish to uphold a racist position," Grillini thundered.

Both belong to the centrist Olive Tree, the largest grouping in Prodi's coalition.

On Sunday, culture minister Francesco Rutelli carefully refrained from condemning Binetti's statements, saying only that she was "a woman of great intelligence and great candor who appears on television programs that a more seasoned politician would have avoided," the ANSA and Apcom agencies reported.

At issue is proposed legislation that the Italian cabinet approved last month, granting legal rights to unmarried couples in heterosexual and same-sex relationships. The decision came despite alarm among Christian Democrats in the center-left government and harsh criticism from the Catholic Church.

Another legislator with the Olive Tree grouping, Enzo Carra, who is a part of a group of Catholic lawmakers who oppose the measure, warned in an interview published Sunday that he would lobby to kill the law. "We don't have the numbers in the senate, and we will work to bury it once and for all," Carra told La Stampa daily.

The measure is delicate enough that Prodi dropped mention of it in a 12-point plan that serves as the new government platform, an apparent nod to Catholic politicians courted by the center-left to broaden the coalition.

Last week the government barely survived a confidence vote in the senate, where it has a one-seat majority, days after Prodi had resigned over a defeat in a senate vote on foreign policy. Communist allies voted against him. Prodi's government survived that vote and one in the lower house Friday, but analysts noted that the government's long-term stability remains fraught with obstacles because of its politically diverse makeup. (Maria Sanminiatelli, AP)

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