Matteo Renzi.jpg
Photograph: EPA/STEPHANIE LECOCQ EPA/STEPHANIE LECOCQ

Italy's lower assembly was poised Wednesday to grant final parliamentary approval to a landmark bill set to end the country's status as the last Western European nation not allowing gay unions.

Rome authorities have 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.

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

There were 369 votes for the government, 193 against and 2 abstentions. Parliamentary Affairs Minister Maria Elena Boschi followed proceedings sporting a rainbow pin on the lapel of her jacket.

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

"We are doing this through the confidence [vote] because we could not have further delays after years of failed attempts," Renzi said in his message.

Sicily Archbishop Michele Pennisi, in an interview with La Repubblica newspaper, retorted: "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."

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.

The law has been under discussion in the Italian parliament since June 2013.

Sponsored by Renzi's Democrats, it 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.

It originally 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.

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