Italy has postponed voting on recognising gay civil unions for fears of a backlash from Catholic members of the ruling center-left Democratic Party.
The Democratic Party chief whip, Luigi Zanda, called a halt to proceedings in the Senate after just two hours of debate to allow "a period of reflection so we can pull the political threads back together and find the path that allows us to proceed in an orderly fashion", he said. Senate President Pietro Grasso said the discussion would restart on 23 February at the earliest.
The delay is a blow for Prime Minister Matteo Renzi who promised to enable the law within a year after he was elected in 2014. Italy is the only major Western country not to recognise civil unions for gay or heterosexual couples. Renzi has only a slim majority in the Senate but is hampered by a number of dissenting voices in his own Democratic Party. If the bill passes in the upper house on Tuesday it will be sent to the lower house where Renzi has more stable support.
One of the major sticking points for the dissenters is a provision that would allows limited adoption rights. Latest polls in Italy say that 7 in 10 Italians support civil unions but only 24 per cent want same-sex couples to be granted adoption rights.
Hundreds of thousands of Italians joined a ‘Family Day’ protest in the centre of Rome against the legislation at the end of last month. The demonstration was backed by the Vatican.
Pope Francis, while often seen as more liberal than the church he leads, made his views very clear on same-sex marriage before the Family Day.
"There can be no confusion between the family God wants and any other type of union,” Francis said in the week before the demonstration. "The family, founded on indissoluble matrimony that unites and allows procreation, is part of God's dream and that of his Church for the salvation of humanity."