Catholic Italy mobilises as conservatives mount last stand against same-sex unions

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Source: The Guardian

It has been 2,000 years since Romans gathered at the Circus Maximus to watch chariots roar around the racetrack, but a new battle was brought to the ancient site on Saturday .

Clutching banners reading “We defend our children” and “The family is founded on marriage between a man and a woman”, hundreds of thousands of people gathered for a “Family Day” to protest against a proposed bill to legalise same-sex unions.

“We have a lot of grandchildren; their future is ruined if marriage is destroyed,” said protester Ida. “Children have a right to have a mother and a father. To grow up healthy, they need a male and a female figure.”

The law, currently facing fierce debate in the senate, is aimed at granting legal rights to same-sex couples for the first time in Italy. Among the provisions are civil partnerships, the right to inherit a partner’s pension and a controversial “stepchild adoption” article which would allow a child legally to have same-sex parents in the case of a gay person adopting their partner’s biological child.

There were both patriotic and religious overtones to the Rome rally. Italian flags were sold and religious banners waved while priests and nuns walked among the crowds. “I believe in Christian and family values. Our children are not for sale,” said Gianluca, a participant.

Organisers estimated that two million people attended the protest, a figure which could not immediately be confirmed by Italian police. Young volunteers were on hand to help and numerous families laid out picnic blankets and rolled buggies on to the grass.

It is no coincidence that while same-sex couples have been granted rights in other Catholic-majority countries, such as Ireland and Spain, the home of the Vatican remains the last country in western Europe not to offer rights to gay couples.

The Irish referendum last year to legalise gay marriage was deemed a “defeat for humanity” by Cardinal Pietro Parolin, the Vatican’s secretary of state. The new bill represents an immense challenge to the authority of the Catholic church at a time when its influence over Italian politics and society is seen to be diminishing. The cause has also rallied conservatives of all stripes, who argue that the law betrays the “natural family” and the Italian constitution.

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