Italy’s Parliament today gave final approval to a bill establishing civil unions for same-sex couples, a vote that came over the objections of the Roman Catholic Church and after years of activism by LGBT rights groups.
The Chamber of Deputies, the lower house of Parliament, passed the bill by a vote of 371-51, with 99 members abstaining, The New York Times reports. The Senate had approved it in February. President Sergio Mattarella has a month to sign it into law, but this “is usually a formality,” the Times notes.
With most Western countries having already established marriage equality or some other form of relationship recognition for same-sex couples, “Italy was perhaps the most prominent exception,” the Times reports. Legal recognition for same-sex unions was first proposed 30 years ago, and the delay in enacting it was due in large part to the church’s influence, as its headquarters, the self-governing Vatican City, is contained within Italy’s capital city, Rome. Pope Francis, although more liberal than his predecessors in some regards, had spoken out against the civil unions bill, saying in January, “There can be no confusion between the family God wants and any other type of union.”
But the legislation had the support of Prime Minister Matteo Renzi, whose government received a vote of confidence in the House of Deputies today, and he had advised the church to stay out of the civil unions debate. Also, the European Court of Human Rights ruled last year that Italy was violating citizens’ civil rights by not recognizing same-sex unions. The ruling did not force Italy to enact such recognition but did put pressure on the government.
The vote in the Chamber of Deputies received extensive applause, and activists celebrated by rallying at Rome’s Trevi Fountain, the Times reports. Advocates expressed satisfaction. “The wall erected mostly by the Vatican against civil rights in this country has fallen, so it is a historically and politically important moment,” Franco Grillini, the honorary president of LGBT rights group Arcigay, told the paper.
Some activists, though, noted that the new law falls short — civil unions are not marriage, and the law does not allow same-sex partners to adopt each other’s biological children. An adoption provision had to be deleted from the legislation to assure its passage.
“The approval of the civil union law is a milestone in the struggle toward legal recognition for same sex-couples in Italy,” said Boris Dittrich, advocacy director in the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender rights program at Human Rights Watch, in a press release. “But restrictive adoption provisions for same-sex couples deny some children the legal protection and security they deserve.”
“This law is born as an old law, that should have been voted 20 years ago,” liberal politician Michela Marzano told the Times, adding, “Italy remains a culturally backward country where the only possible family” is a traditional, heterosexual one. “It prefers to penalize children rather than recognize the multifaceted families that already exist.”