Italy has voted for the introduction of gay civil unions, granting rights in terms of inheritance, housing and pension rights and hospital visits. Prime Minister Matteo Renzi called it a "day for celebrations."
Members of parliament (MPs) in the Chamber of Deputies, Italy's lower house of parliament, voted 372-51 with 99 abstentions to approve legislation already passed in February by the Senate.
Prime Minister Matteo Renzi spoke of a "day for celebrations for many." His center-left government had called for a vote of confidence knowing it could count on a solid majority in the Chamber of Deputies.
Equal but not the same
The bill grants same-sex couples similar rights to married ones in terms of inheritance, housing and pension rights and hospital visits, and also allows them to take on the same surname.
Originally it also included a stepchild adoption clause, allowing for the adoptions of a partner's children, but this was ditched after centrists in the ruling coalition led by Interior Minister Angelino Alfano complained.
Italy has long faced calls from its own constitutional court and the European Court of Human Rights to make the move, but all past reform proposals have been derailed by the Vatican and conservative politicians.
Government tactics attacked
The government's tactics have been condemned by conservative opposition parties and the Italian Catholic Church as "limiting democratic debate."
"They are not taking into account that a large part of the country does not want this law. I think this way of acting is a form of creeping Fascism," Sicily Archbishop Michele Pennisi wrote in the La Repubblica newspaper.
Nationwide pro- and anti-reform rallies attracted over 1 million people in January. The Catholic groups that mobilized against the bill won no direct endorsement from Pope Francis, however.
"The pope does not meddle with Italian politics," Francis said in February on the way back from a trip to Mexico.
"The law does not grant us full equality yet, because that will come only with same-sex marriages, but it definitely represents a historic step, because it is the first law to recognize many of the rights that we have been fighting for for 30 years. It is a historic step; there is no other way to call it," said Gabriele Piazzoni, the National Secretary of gay rights group Arcigay.
jbh/kms (AFP, dpa, Reuters)