Prodi calls for gay marriage to be legal in Italy

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The Independent Online

Romano Prodi, the man expected to lead the centre-left coalition - known as the Union - against the forces of Silvio Berlusconi in next spring's general election, has risked alienating the Catholic vote by promising Italy's gays that he would legalise same-sex unions.

Mr Prodi, a former president of the European Commission and favourite to win next month's primary vote to decide who will lead the centre-left, has now set out his stall to win the gay vote, estimated at four million people. In a letter to Franco Grillini, the head of Arcigay, a powerful gay pressure group, Mr Prodi, himself a devout Catholic, promised to address gay partnerships in the Union's manifesto.

"Dearest Franco," he wrote, "I learn that I have caused disappointment of many in Arcigay who were expecting a specific reference to [civil unions] in my programme ... A solution will certainly be found in the final programme of the Union."

The issue remains explosive in Italy, where the Church has been flexing its muscles on social questions with increasing confidence in recent months.

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