THE Italian Senate will vote on a bill legalising same-sex civil unions when it convenes on January 28.

The bill, first introduced in October last year by Senator Monica Cirinna, is the first major step by Italy to recognise same-sex relationships on a national level.

Italy is the last major European Union member nation to not yet formally recognise same-sex civil unions, after Greece passed legislation in December.

[showads ad=MREC]  “We are finally here with a civil union bill that is very strong,” Cirinna said in October.

That same month, she told Reuters: “It is not exactly equal to other marriages, which I would have preferred, but it is a bill that recognises all social rights.”

The vote comes two years after Prime Minister Matteo Renzi first announced plans to see same-sex unions formally recognised. The issue was a high-profile commitment of the Democratic Party (PD) when it came to power in 2013.

Prior to the PD’s election win, governments who sought to introduce civil union legislation were opposed by political groups with strong ties to the Roman Catholic Church, including the New Centre-Right (NCD) party, Renzi’s main coalition partner.

The NCD contributed some 3000 of the 4320 amendments that impeded the bill’s progress last year. The Catholic wings of the NCD and Renzi’s own PD fear civil unions will open the door for adoptions by same-sex couples, and have sought to ensure that the bill — if passed — will not include same-sex stepchild adoption rights.

With or without stepchild adoption rights, the bill will include benefits currently enjoyed by married heterosexuals, including deceased partner’s pensions and automatic inheritance.

Pope Francis reaffirmed his opposition to same-sex marriage last year at the Synod on the Family, where he told bishops: “This is God’s dream for his beloved creation, to see it fulfilled in the loving union between a man and a woman, rejoicing in their shared journey, fruitful in their mutual gift of self.”

The Italian government hopes the passing of this bill will avoid further condemnation from the European Court of Human Rights, which last July found Italy to be in violation of Article 8 of the European Convention of Human Rights. Article 8 provides for the right to respect for private and family life.

In addition, the court found current Italian legislation failed to “provide for the core needs relevant to a couple in a stable committed relationship”.

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