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Civil union law reaches Italian parliament

A bill providing same-sex couples legal recognition and protection has reached the Italian upper house's floor. While stopping short of same-sex marriage, the bill would provide gay couples with similar benefits.

Bypassing a parliamentary commission, Prime Minister Matteo Renzi's Democratic Party (DP) on Wednesday introduced a bill to the Senate floor that would provide same-sex couples with legal recognition.

The bill has witnessed staunch opposition in Italy - one of the last Western countries to introduce equal rights for gay couples - from conservative parties, including the New Center-Right (NCD), the main partner in Renzi's coalition government.

However, a handful of opposition parties, including former Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi's Forza Italia group, said they would support the bill to provide "full rights" to gay couples.

'Recognizes all social rights'

"We are finally here with a civil union that is very strong," said the author of the text, Senator Monica Cirinna.

"It is

not exactly equal to other marriages,

which I would have preferred, but it is a bill that recognizes all social rights," Cirinna told Reuters news agency.

If the bill passes the Senate and Chamber of Deputies, the same-sex couples would enjoy visiting rights in hospital or prison as well as automatic inheritance in the case of a partner's death.

Progressive reforms

The bill would also introduce the ability for a person to legally adopt their partner's child, also called "stepchild adoption."

Renzi's move to push through the legislation "shows the determiniation of the PD to give an answer to all those Italian citizens who have been waiting for years for legal recognition of their union," said Micaela Campana, the PD's civil rights spokeswoman, in a statement.

The move follows Renzi's introduction of a

reforms bill to trim parliament's power,

which was approved by the Senate on Tuesday.

ls/msh (Reuters, dpa)

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