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Italian senate approves compromise civil unions bill

Government imposes vote of confidence and scraps stepchild adoption.

On 25 February the senate passed on first reading a compromise bill introducing civil unions for same-sex couples but not stepchild adoption.

The proposal also introduces new rights for unmarried cohabiting couples including gays.

The bill passed in a vote of confidence with 173 votes in favour, 71 against and none abstaining, with support from centrists and a splinter group from ex prime minister Silvio Berlusconi’s Forza Italia party. The anti-establishment Movimento Cinque Stelle (M5S) boycotted the vote.

The provisions are the result of a compromise between the Partito Democratico (PD) of prime minister Matteo Renzi and junior government partner Nuovo Centrodestra (NDC) that opposed key parts of the original proposal.

These included the hotly contested stepchild adoption clause allowing one partner in a civil union to adopt the other partner’s biological child, which opponents said would pave the way for the use of surrogate mothers, even though this is banned in Italy under a separate law.

In a surprise last-minute move NCD also asked the PD to drop the proposed fidelity requirement for partners in a civil union, arguing this would make the new institution too similar to marriage.

NCD leader and interior minister Angelino Alfano subsequently sparked protest by saying his party had prevented “an unnatural and anthropological revolution”.

Meanwhile, the PD has said stepchild adoption will now be dealt with in a separate bill overhauling Italy’s badly functioning adoptions system, to be presented before the end of the current legislature that runs until 2018.

Many legal experts consider stepchild adoption to be the minimum requirement for children living with gay parents in Italy to guarantee continuity of care and affection in the event that the biological parent dies or becomes incapacitated.

Under current law such children risk ending up in the foster care system as their non-biological parent has no legal custody rights.

The original civil unions bill including stepchild adoption stalled in the senate in mid-February after M5S withdrew its support for a so-called kangaroo amendment filed by a PD senator that would have struck down all opposition amendments to the provisions, making a compromise inevitable.

Gay rights activists are angry and frustrated by the result, which must now be approved by the chamber of deputies in identical form in order to pass into law.

However, the watered-down civil unions bill does have the merit of bringing Italy one step closer to the rest of western Europe, where in some countries the right of two people of the same sex to have their partnership legally recognised has been upheld for nearly two decades.

Laura Clarke.

For more views on Italy see Laura Clarke's blog.

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