Same-sex civil unions: Italy approves watered down bill branded 'a disgrace' by equality campaigners

Decision to scrap the right of gay people to adopt the child of their partner led one activist to say: 'The Catholics have won and the rights of children have been sacrificed on the altar of their bigotry'

Italy’s Senate has voted to allow civil unions for same-sex couples, after the country had languished for years as the only Western democracy without such legislation.

The final deal was so watered down by conservative and Catholic senators, however, that liberal parliamentarians and equality campaigners branded the resulting law “a disgrace” and one that left “Italy in the Middle Ages”.

The bill, which passed by 173 votes to 71, came after a farcical and unedifying series of squabbles and U-turns. After the Senate vote, a vote in the lower chamber, where Matteo Renzi’s centre-left Democratic Party has a comfortable majority, is the only remaining hurdle.

Thanks in part to protests by New Centre Right, the conservative junior in Mr Renzi’s coalition government, the right of gay people in Italy to adopt the child of their partner – dubbed “stepchild adoption” by its critics – has been scrapped. Thus the child could instead be placed in a care home in the event of the death of the parent.

Stepchild adoption, which exists in other European countries, could encourage gay people to seek children from surrogate mothers in exchange for money, according to conservative critics including the interior minister, Angelino Alfano.

In addition, all wording, including a commitment to fidelity, that might in any way equate gay unions to marriage, had been carefully removed.

Mr Renzi said that the deal was a “historic event”. His reforms minister, Maria Elena Boschi, said the accord would “finally mean that the life together of two people of the same sex would not be less valued than that of a man and a woman”, and that there would no longer be “second-class citizens” in Italy.

However, activist and film-maker Gustav Hofer, director of Suddenly Last Winter, a documentary about gay rights in Italy, told The Independent: “The Italian LGBT community is not celebrating this law, even though we have been waiting for 30 years since its first discussion. It’s a disgrace. The Catholics are the ones cheering tonight. They have won and the rights of children have been sacrificed on the altar of their bigotry.”

Mr Alfano had also led calls to deny gays and lesbians the right to inherit their partner’s pensions. This amendment was ditched, however.

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Maria Elena Boschi said same-sex couples would no longer be second-class citizens (AFP/Getty)

Nonetheless, Massimo Cervellini, a senator in the left-wing SEL party, said the compromise with conservatives had left Italian civil rights “stuck in the Middle Ages”.

Until 10 days ago, the bill had been heading for approval in its entirety, with the support of the anti-establishment Five Star Movement sufficient to overcome conservative and Church opposition.

But when the Renzi government tried to speed things up with a sweeping guillotine measure to axe about 500 amendments introduced by right-wing parties, the M5S senators withdrew their support. The underlying rancour between Mr Renzi and the M5S led to the government proposing a compromise acceptable to conservatives and the bishops.

However, six liberal Catholic priests have condemned the Catholic Church’s overtly political lobbying that has watered down the bill.

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