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Rally in Rome
seeks support for proposed rights for unmarried couples

Rally in Rome
seeks support for proposed rights for unmarried couples

Supporters of proposed Italian legislation to give many legal rights to unmarried couples, including gay people, rallied in Rome on Saturday to urge lawmakers to resist Vatican pressure against the law. Premier Roman Prodi's cabinet last month approved the rights bill, which now faces what could be a tough battle in parliament and which has heightened tensions in his often bickering center-left coalition.

A Christian Democrat cabinet minister refused to vote on the measure, while far-left members of the coalition, including Communists and Greens, have been vigorously campaigning for its passage. A senator from a pro-Vatican centrist party in the coalition recently was criticized for making remarks gay leaders described as hostile.

Thousands of rally participants, some of them waving rainbow-colored flags, streamed into Piazza Farnese, chosen by organizers because in 2002 two Italian men registered their union in the French consulate there under a French law that gives broad legal rights to gay couples.

"Equal in opportunity, free in choice," read one banner.

Italy's proposed legislation would grant legal rights to unmarried couples who live together, both in heterosexual and same-sex relationships. Some rights, such as hospital visiting rights, would be granted immediately, while couples would have to live together for several years to be eligible for inheritance rights, for example.

Pope Benedict XVI has been leading a campaign against legal recognition for unmarried couples and has denounced any efforts aimed at allowing gays to marry.

Equal Opportunity minister Barbara Pollastrini told reporters at the rally that the law would recognize "people's rights and duties and ability to be responsible" for each other in a stable relationship and would make Italy a more civilized country.

Opponents of the law, including pro-Vatican politicians, said they would organize a "family day" rally in coming weeks to oppose the proposed legislation. (AP)

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