The European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) said Tuesday that Italy remained the only major western European country that did not recognize civil partnerships or gay marriage.
Italy was taken to the Strasbourg-based European court by three homosexual couples who had complained that the country was discriminating against them because of their sexual orientation. They claimed this was a breach of Article 8 - the right to respect for private and family life - of the European Convention on Human Rights.
In their ruling, a panel of seven judges said that same-sex couples in Italy needed greater legal rights, while ordering the government to pay 5,000 euros ($5,400) in damages to each of the claimants, as well as a total of 14,000 euros ($15,500) in legal expenses.
"The court considered that the legal protection currently available in Italy to same-sex couples [...] not only failed to provide for the core needs relevant to a couple in a stable committed relationship, but it was also not sufficiently reliable," the ECHR ruling said.
Civil unions by the end of the year: Renzi
Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi said recently that his government would introduce a law on civil unions by the end of the year, convincing a junior minister to end a hunger strike he had started in early July to protest the lack of legislation. But the draft legislation that would authorize civil unions is currently blocked in the Senate.
Hundreds of thousands of people marched in Rome last month against the proposed law legalizing civil unions for homosexual couples. But recent opinion polls have shown a significant swing in favor of reform, following a pattern seen in Ireland - like Italy a strongly Catholic country - which overwhelmingly voted in favor of legalizing same-sex marriages in May.
The European Court of Human Rights was set up in 1959 with the aim to protect human rights across the European continent.
ss/cmk (Reuters, AFP, dpa)