rainbow-flag-gay zastava.jpg
Photograph: Freeimages.com / Owen Parry

Italy's lower assembly granted Wednesday final parliamentary approval to a landmark bill that is due to end the country's status as the last Western European nation not allowing gay unions.

Rome authorities had long faced calls to change the status quo, including from their constitutional court and the European Court of Human Rights. However, past reform proposals were stymied by the Vatican and conservative politicians.

"For many, today is a day for celebrations," Prime Minister Matteo Renzi wrote on Facebook hours before members of the Chamber of Deputies in Rome approved the reform in a 372-51 vote, with 99 abstentions.

Prior to the final vote, the government won a vote of confidence on a motion to reject all proposed amendments to the law. Had any of them been approved, the bill would have had to win further approval in the Senate.

While a few hundred gay rights activists celebrated under rainy weather outside, Parliamentary Affairs Minister Maria Elena Boschi followed deliberations in the chamber sporting a rainbow pin on the lapel of her jacket.

The government's parliamentary tactics, designed to preempt obstructionist attempts, were condemned by opposition parties and by the Italian Catholic Church as limiting democratic debate on a highly contentious issue.

Sicily Archbishop Michele Pennisi, protested in an interview with the La Repubblica newspaper: "They are not taking into account that a large part of the country does not want this law. I think this way of acting is a form of creeping Fascism."

The leader of the hard-right Northern League, Matteo Salvini, urged mayors from his party to boycott the law, and centre-right candidate for June 5 mayoral elections in Rome, Alfio Marchini, said he would refuse to officiate civil unions for same-sex couples.

In another show of defiance, several conservative politicians said they would announce Thursday a campaign to collect signatures for a repeal referendum. One of them, the Northern League's Massimiliano Fedriga, said the law represented "a direct attack on the family."

In January, nationwide pro- and anti-reform rallies each attracted more than 1 million people, according to their organizers, yet Catholic groups which mobilized against the bill won no direct endorsement from Pope Francis.

"The Pope does not meddle with Italian politics," Francis said in February on the way back from a trip to Mexico. "Because the Pope belongs to everybody, he cannot enter the concrete, domestic politics of a country. This is not the Pope's role," he added.

Sponsored by Renzi's Democrats, the gay unions bill grants same-sex couples similar rights to married ones in terms of inheritance, housing and pension rights and hospital visits, and also allows them to take on the same surname.

An earlier draft included a so-called stepchild adoption clause, allowing gay persons to adopt the children of their partners, but it was excised on the insistence of centrists in the ruling coalition, led by Interior Minister Angelino Alfano.

The final compromise disappointed gay rights activists, but still represents a major reform for a country with a traditionally conservative approach to family affairs.

The law had been under parliamentary consideration since June 2013, and several months have yet to pass before it is fully applied, as it needs to be signed by the Italian President and followed up by implementing decrees.

According to Arcigay, Italy's main gay rights lobby group, the process will be completed in late July at the earliest, or in November at the latest. Only then, will Italian gay partnership start being officially recognized.

Latest news

Trump administration reverses transgender bathroom protections

The Trump administration on Wednesday withdrew Obama-era guidance about the use of school and university bathrooms by transgender students, local media reported.

Several Dakota Access Pipeline protesters arrested as deadline passes

Several people at a camp protesting against a controversial oil pipeline in the US state of North Dakota were arrested Wednesday after a deadline to vacate the land passed, local media reported.

Germany deports 18 rejected asylum seekers to Afghanistan

A Kabul-bound plane with 18 Afghan migrants on board took off from Munich Airport late Wednesday, its passengers becoming the third group of rejected asylum seekers to be deported by German authorities back to Afghanistan.

New Romanian justice minister named after anti-corruption protests

Romanian Prime Minister Sorin Grindeanu has named a former judge to be the country's next justice minister, after the previous office holder resigned under pressure from mass anti-corruption protests.

Le Pen's chief of staff indicted in European Parliament jobs probe

The chief of staff of Marine Le Pen, the far-right candidate for president in upcoming French elections, was indicted Wednesday over allegations of irregular reimbursements from the European Parliament, a judicial source told dpa.

Montenegrin police extradites Miodrag Jovic to Croatia

Montenegrin police reported on Wednesday that they extradited to Croatia Miodrag Jovic (48) from Glina, after whom Interpol Zagreb issued an arrest warrant.

Croatian minister attends CoMoCoSEE conference in Albania

Culture Minister Nina Obuljen Korzinek participated in a third conference of the Council of Ministers of Culture of South-Eastern Europe (CoMoCoSEE) that took place in Tirana on February 21-22.

New Somali president asks al-Shabaab to surrender to 'help' country

Somalia's newly elected President Mohamed Abdullahi Farmajo asked Islamist terrorist group al-Shabaab to surrender in order "to help rebuild" the conflict-ridden East African nation.

Serbia's EU negotiator says minority rights neglected

The head of the Serbia's European Union accession negotiation team, Tanja Miscevic, said in Novi Sad on Wednesday that minority rights had been neglected for many years and added that positive results in that regard cannot be achieved over night, the Beta news agency has reported. 

Scientists: Nearby star's 7 rocky planets are "best bet" for life

New analysis of telescope data shows a dwarf star just 40 light years from Earth has at least seven apparently rocky planets with potential to harbour water, an international team of scientists announced Wednesday.

Croatian PM receives EIB Vice-President

Prime Minister Andrej Plenkovic met on Wednesday with European Investment Bank (EIB) Vice-President Dario Scannapieco for talks on the bank's contribution to a new investment cycle in Croatia and its support to the Croatian government to implement key projects, a press release from the government's office said.

Bomb explodes outside police officer's home in Northern Ireland

A bomb exploded outside a police officer's home in Northern Ireland on Wednesday but there were no immediate reports of casualties.