Italy joins rest of Europe in giving rights to gay couples

Democratic Party Senator Monica Cirinna holds a placard as she poses with supporters of gay civil unions outside the Italian Senate in Rome, on January 28, 2016. Senate will begin debate on a bill that would legalise civil partnership for homosexuals as well as unmarried heterosexual couples. The placard reads: " It's time to be civil".

Democratic Party Senator Monica Cirinna holds a placard as she poses with supporters of gay civil unions outside the Italian Senate in Rome, on January 28, 2016. Senate will begin debate on a bill that would legalise civil partnership for homosexuals as well as unmarried heterosexual couples. The placard reads: " It's time to be civil". Associated Press

ROME (AP) — Italy joined the rest of Europe on Wednesday in giving some legal rights to gay couples after a years-long battle and opposition from the Catholic Church to anything that smacked of authorizing gay marriage.

The lower Chamber of Deputies voted 372-51 with 99 abstentions to approve legislation already passed in February by the Senate.

Gay rights activists hailed the vote as historic, given that Italy was the last of the European Union’s 28 nations to grant legal recognition to civil unions. But they voiced disappointment that the government had sacrificed a provision to allow gay adoption to ensure passage.

“It is lacking full equality, which is what we were asking for,” said Gabriele Piazzoni, national secretary for the main gay rights group Arcigay. “But still, this is a crucial moment.”

The legislation grants same-sex couples many of the same rights as married couples: the possibility of having the same last name, inheritance rights, hospital visitation rights and medical decision-making rights. But it stops far short of authorizing gay marriage.

The Vatican, which holds sway politically and socially in overwhelmingly Catholic Italy, maintains that marriage is a lifelong bond between man and woman.

Italy’s leading Catholic bishop, Monsignor Nunzio Galantino, had criticized the government’s decision to put the bill to a confidence vote to ensure passage, saying it was a “loss for everyone.”

Premier Matteo Renzi defended the tactic, saying he did so to avoid “any more delays after years of failed attempts.”

“Today is a day of celebration for so many,” Renzi wrote on Facebook. “For those who finally feel recognized.”

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