Italy Senate OKs civil unions, but LGBT groups are unhappy

ROME -- Italy's Senate voted Thursday to grant legal recognition to civil unions, as the last holdout in Western Europe took a compromise step to give some rights to gay couples after a bitter, years-long battle.

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Premier Matteo Renzi described the passage of the bill Thursday as "historic." But gay and lesbian groups denounced the legislation as a betrayal because Renzi's Democratic Party sacrificed a provision to allow gay adoption in order to ensure passage.

The legislation, which must still pass the lower Chamber of Deputies, is nevertheless significant for an overwhelmingly Roman Catholic country where the Vatican holds sway in politics and society, although Pope Francis remained conspicuously silent as debate raged in recent months.

It passed 173-71, well over the threshold necessary.

THIS IS A BREAKING NEWS UPDATE. Check back soon for further information. AP's earlier story is below.

Italy's Senate was poised Thursday to grant legal recognition to civil unions, as the last holdout in Western Europe takes a step to give some rights to gay couples after a bitter, years-long battle.

Premier Matteo Renzi described the expected passage of the bill Thursday as "historic." But gay and lesbian groups denounced the watered-down legislation as a betrayal because Renzi's Democratic Party sacrificed a provision to allow gay adoption in order to ensure passage.

The legislation, which must still pass the lower Chamber of Deputies, is nevertheless significant for an overwhelmingly Roman Catholic country where the Vatican holds sway in politics and society, although Pope Francis remained conspicuously silent as debate raged in recent months.

After being stalled in parliament for years, the legislation was spurred on after the European Court of Human Rights condemned Italy last year for discriminating against gays. Ruling in favour of three homosexual couples, the court found that Italy had failed to provide gays with even the most basic rights owed to couples in stable relationships, including inheritance rights, and recommended civil union recognition.

The legislation stops far short of authorizing gay marriage, which was passed last year in predominantly Catholic Ireland and was legalized as well across the United States. Last-minute changes removed references to "faithfulness" in the relationship lest it be construed as equivalent to marriage, which the Catholic Church insists is a lifelong union between a man and woman.

More painful for the LGBT community was Renzi's decision earlier in the week to scrap the provision allowing gays to adopt the biological children of their partners. It was sacrificed to ensure support within Renzi's own Democratic Party, and even then Renzi put the bill up to a confidence vote to ensure passage -- a common tactic in Italian politics to ensure that the majority closes ranks.

Avvenire, the newspaper of the Italian bishops' conference, lamented in an editorial Thursday that Renzi had forced senators to choose between their consciences and the government.

"It would have been better to not so heavily condition the freedom of conscience of the senators who will vote (with a few announced exceptions) not because of their intimate conviction of the quality of the law but out of loyalty or not to a political judgment of Renzi's executive," Avvenire said.



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