25 February 2016, The Tablet

Adoption rights withdrawn from Italy's same-sex civil union bill

An earlier form of the legislation would have allowed adoption by the non-biological parent in a same-sex union

Italy will tonight vote on the new draft of a bill to allow same-sex civil unions in the country for the first time. 

Following weeks of wrangling, an agreement has been reached between the governing coalition to put forward legislation which would give legal recognition to gay couples. 

The government has, however, removed all provisions for adoption rights, the part of the bill that had been most hotly contested. 

An earlier form of the legislation would have allowed adoption by the non-biological parent in a same-sex union. 

The Prime Minister of Italy, Matteo Renzi, who has been keen to show his credentials as both an economic and social reformer, described the agreement over civil unions as “historic.” 

Italy is the only major country in Western Europe without any recognition of gay couples and previous attempts to introduce new laws have been strongly resisted by both the Vatican and the Italian Church. 

The leader of Italy’s bishops’ conference, Cardinal Angelo Bagnasco, has spoken out against the latest civil union bill while hundreds of thousands, including many lay Catholic groups, made their opposition known in a “family day” rally in Rome last month. 

But Pope Francis has on the whole decided to stay out of the debate. 

When asked about the forthcoming legislation on the plane from Mexico to Rome he said: “The pope doesn’t get mixed up in Italian politics. At my first meeting with the [Italian] bishops in May 2013, one of the three things I said was: with the Italian government you’re on your own. Because the pope is for everybody and he can’t insert himself in the specific internal politics of a country.” He added, however, that “a Catholic parliamentarian must vote according to his well-formed conscience”.

This appears to be a shift from a 2003 Vatican document, issued by Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, saying that Catholic politicians should vote against same-sex couple legislation. 

On Tuesday Cardinal Pietro Parolin said it was “essential” that civil unions were not made equal to marriage by the bill. 

He was speaking at an annual reception attended by both the Italian President, Sergio Mattarella, and Mr Renzi marking the anniversary of the 1929 Lateran pact, an agreement between Italy and the Church which formally established the Vatican as a city state. 

Cardinal Parolin said the adoption provision in the bill could be seen to equate civil unions with marriage. 

The vote in the Italian senate is due at 7pm tonight, Central European Time. 

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