Italy’s parliament will today start the debate on legislation to grant legal recognition to “civil unions”, a major step for a country where the Vatican packs considerable political weight.
Italian gays have grown impatient as other traditionally Catholic European countries have either allowed same-sex couples to marry or legally recognized their civil unions.
The coalition government of Premier Matteo Renzi is pushing for the legislation, which includes the right of inheritance, to receive the pension of his or her deceased partner, or to make medical decisions about a partner in the hospital.
But one provision of the bill, to permit gays to adopt the biological children of their partner, has generated animosity even within Renzi’s coalition.
Opponents fear the so-called “stepchild adoption” will encourage male couples to turn to surrogate mothers abroad. Surrogacy is banned in Italy, as well as in many other European countries.
Headlines warning of a surge in “rented uteruses” have abounded lately in Italian Catholic publications, as well as in more conservative lay newspapers.
Intentionally or not, Pope Francis has waded into the debate. Last week, in an annual address to the Vatican tribunal that grants marriage annulments, the pontiff declared: “There can’t be any confusion between the family intended by God and every other kind of union.”
“This law is needed. Period,” Renzi told an Italian radio station recently, as political debate grew more acrimonious.
Opponents of the proposed legislation fear gay civil unions will pave the way for gay marriage. They have promised to draw 1 million people to Rome’s ancient Circus Maximus field on Saturday to loudly lodge their objections to “stepchild adoption.”
“We uphold the position of the Catholic church on marriage, a millennia-old institution,” said a rally organizer, Paolo Maria Floris. He stressed that organizers support “individual” rights for gay couples such as inheritance. “But the rights of children come first; they need to have a mother and a father.”
Next weekend’s rally comes in contrast to rallies in nearly 100 cities nationwide last Saturday, when homosexuals and other backers of the legislation sounded alarm clocks at the same hour to signal that the time has come to give rights to same-sex couples.
In a curious twist, some backers of the bill hail from the conservative fold of former Premier Silvio Berlusconi, whose fiancee is an outspoken advocate for gay rights.
The bill’s path will likely be a long one. Opponents have tacked on several thousand amendments in a bid it to slow down the process, and it is not known when lawmakers will vote on the proposal.
Last Updated on Jan 28, 2016