Italy Approves Same-Sex Civil Unions
Italy Approves Same-Sex Civil Unions

Italy was the last major Western country to legally recognise same-sex relationships

Italy’s parliament has backed the introduction of same-sex civil unions in a long-awaited decision that has been hailed as a civil rights landmark.

Italy had been the last major western country not to legally recognise same-sex relationships before the bill was approved by MPs on Wednesday.

Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi promised to prioritise legislation for gay rights when he took office in early 2014.

Originally presented in 2013, the bill cleared the final hurdle for legislation on Wednesday in a 372-51 vote, with 99 abstentions.

Before the bill was approved, Renzi called for a confidence vote to prevent potential last-minute blocking or delaying amendments by opponents of the legislation. The confidence vote, which was passed in a 369-193 vote, prevented rebels from Renzi’s democratic party and the Catholic right from forcing further changes to the civil union legislation.

“Today is a day of celebration for so many people,” Renzi wrote on his Facebook page before the vote. “We are writing another important page of the Italy we want…It was no longer acceptable to have any more delays after years of failed attempts.”

The government used the same confidence vote tactic to ensure the bill was approved by the senate of the republic in February.

The bill gives same-sex couples the right to share a surname, draw on their partner’s pension when they die, and inherit each other assets. They will have the right to be treated as each other’s next of kin if one partner is ill, and will have some rights to a shared home.

However, before passing the legislation, Renzi’s government needed to dilute the bill to prevent it from being blocked. Originally the bill would have granted same-sex couples the right to adopt their partner’s biological children. While adoption has not been ruled out, the family court will need to decide on a case-by-case basis.

Amid concerns that civil unions would be too similar to marriage, references to a need for faithfulness were removed from the legislation. The legislation will not recognise same-sex marriages from other countries.

“This law is born as an old law, that should have been voted 20 years ago,” said Michela Marzano of the Democratic Party, who noted the law’s shortcomings.

“Italy remains a culturally backward country where the only possibly family is still the traditional one. It prefers to penalise children rather than recognise the existing multifaceted families.”

It has been nearly 30 years since lawmakers first proposed giving legal recognition to civil unions in Italy. However past reform proposals were blocked by the Vatican and conservative politicians. In 2007, a mass protest caused the centre-left government of Romano Prodi to abandon a civil union bill. The failure of the bill was cited as one of the causes behind the fall of his government in 2008.

Recent polls have shown nearly half of Italians support marriage equality and the overwhelming majority support some form of legal protection for same-sex couples.

President Sergio Mattarella has a month to sign the legislation, a step that is usually a formality.