ROME — Italy’s Senate voted Thursday to grant legal recognition to civil unions, as the last holdout in Western Europe took a compromise step to give some rights to same-sex couples after a bitter, years-long battle.
Premier Matteo Renzi described the passage of the bill Thursday as “historic.” But gay and lesbian groups denounced the watered-down legislation as a betrayal because Renzi’s Democratic Party sacrificed a provision to allow same-sex adoption in order to ensure passage.
The legislation, which must still pass the lower Chamber of Deputies, is nevertheless significant for an overwhelmingly Roman Catholic country where the Vatican holds sway in politics and society, although Pope Francis remained conspicuously silent as debate raged in recent months.
The bill passed 173-71, well over the threshold necessary.
After being stalled in parliament for years, the legislation was spurred on after the European Court of Human Rights condemned Italy last year for discriminating against gays. Ruling in favor of three same-sex couples, the court found that Italy had failed to provide gays with even the most basic rights owed to couples in stable relationships, including inheritance rights, and recommended civil-union recognition.
The legislation stops far short of authorizing same-sex marriage, which was passed last year in predominantly Catholic Ireland and was legalized as well across the United States. Last-minute changes removed references to “faithfulness” in the relationship lest it be construed as equivalent to marriage, which the Catholic Church insists is a lifelong union between a man and woman.
More painful for the LGBT community was Renzi’s decision earlier in the week to scrap the provision allowing gays to adopt the biological children of their partners. It was sacrificed to ensure support within Renzi’s own Democratic Party, and even then Renzi put the bill up to a confidence vote to ensure passage — a common tactic in Italian politics to ensure that the majority closes ranks.
“We are outraged, angry, disappointed,” said Marilena Grassadonia, president of Rainbow Families, the Italian association of gay and lesbian parents. “We can’t believe that in 2016 … in a country like Italy which is so proud to be part of this Europe, that it’s possible to make a law on civil unions without considering children who should be protected as Italian citizens and discriminated minors.“
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