Sun, Jan 31, 2016 - Page 1 News List

Hundreds of thousands to rally in Rome over bill allowing same-sex civil unions

AFP, ROME

Hundreds of thousands of people were yesterday expected to protest in Rome’s Circus Maximus against a civil unions bill for same-sex couples, a hot-potato issue for Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi’s government.

“As many people as possible must take part, remember this is the only weapon we have,” organizer Massimo Gandolfini said ahead of the “Family Day” rally, which was to begin in the capital’s ancient Roman chariot racing stadium at noon.

Gandolfini said he expected to fill the arena, which accommodates 350,000 people without counting the surrounding streets, while authorities in Rome said they were preparing for up to 500,000 people.

Italy is the last major Western country not to allow same-sex couples legal status. The Italian Senate began examining the bill on Thursday, which would enable gay people to commit to one another before a state official and, in certain circumstances, adopt each other’s children and inherit residual pension rights.

In 2007, another vast “Family Day” forced the center-left government of then-Italian prime minister Romano Prodi to drop a much less ambitious civil union project — and the failure of the bill was cited as one of the reasons behind the fall of his government early the following year.

Supporters say Italy has no choice this time but to change, pointing to repeated complaints from the European Court of Human Rights.

The Italian Episcopal Conference on Friday said it was “concerned” about the “process under way of putting marriage and civil unions on the same level — with the introduction of an alternative to the family.”

While some accused the bishops of failing to follow Pope Francis’ call for the church to show greater compassion to the marginalized or excluded, others said the Catholic country would do its utmost to protect vulnerable children.

Center-left Renzi has said he is confident the bill will pass, although there are several sticking points, in particular the ability to adopt the biological children of one’s partner.

“Italy tomorrow will become a beacon for Europe. Each child needs a father and a mother, the complete deal,” Jacopo Coghe, head of the Family Generation association, told journalists at a pre-rally event on Friday.

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