Italy Civil Union passesThe Italian senate has approved a bill allowing civil unions for same-sex couples after a controversial compromise removed the step-child adoption clause.

After a bitter and drawn out fight, the Italian senate has voted 173 – 71 in favour of civil unions for same-sex couples. Days before the February 25 vote, Prime Minister Matteo Renzi was forced to remove the clause allowing couples the right to adopt their partner’s biological child, and put the bill to a confidence vote to ensure its success.

The historic bill is now with the lower chamber of deputies, where it is expected to be passed within weeks.

For years, the Catholic Church has opposed civil unions and bitterly fought the adoption clause in the current bill. Conservative members of Renzi’s coalition partners, The New Centre Right, demanded the step-child adoption clause be removed and the requirement for faithfulness be struck from the bill to prevent civil union vows from closely resembling those of marriage.

As it stands, the civil unions bill grants same-sex couples most of the same rights as marriage, including pension and inheritance rights, a shared surname, and the power to make medical care decisions and have hospital visitation rights.

“Love wins,” tweeted Renzi after the bill passed, before posting on his Facebook page that “what counts this evening is that many Italian citizens will feel less alone and more part of a community. Hope won against fear. Courage won against discrimination. It’s a victory for love.”

LGBTI activists have reacted negatively to the watered-down bill, viewing it as a betrayal by Renzi’s Democratic Party.

“We are outraged, angry, disappointed,” said Marilena Grassadenia from Rainbow Families.

“This text once again does not take into consideration children who need definite laws and protection. The law that has come out of this is lacking its heart,” said Flavio Romani from LGBTI rights group, Arcigay.

Rainbow Families organised a March 5 rally in Rome, protesting the exclusion of the step-child adoption clause. Thousands of people held up signs which read “We want equality” and called for the draft legislation to be amended again before it is ratified.

The European Union is continuing to pressure Italy into respecting LGBTI people’s “right to family life.”

The Council of Europe Commissioner for Human Rights, Nils Muiznieks, said that the civil union’s bill is only the beginning. “The next step will be a law that allows adoption in order to eliminate this remaining discrimination and fully align Italian laws with jurisprudence of the European Court of Human Rights.”

Renzi’s government intends to push forward with reform. Shortly after the vote, the bill’s sponsor, Monica Cirinna, announced that a bill granting equal adoption rights to gay couples and unmarried heterosexuals is already being drafted.

“It’s a first step, a victory with a hole in the heart,” she said. “This is a very important law, but I also think of the children of so many friends. Now we have to take a second step. We are halfway up the stairs.”