After decades of struggle by gay rights groups, and months of contested political negotiations, the Italian Parliament on Wednesday evening gave final approval to a law recognizing civil unions of same-sex couples.
The vote — 372 to 51, with 99 abstentions — was followed by long applause in the Chamber of Deputies, the lower house of Parliament. At the Trevi Fountain in Rome, people with rainbow flags gathered to celebrate.
It was a historic occasion for a nation that is still dominated by the Roman Catholic Church, which opposed the measure, and where traditional family norms are still strong. It was also a victory for Prime Minister Matteo Renzi, who supported the bill.
Nearly every Western country has legalized same-sex marriage or some form of civil union for gays and lesbians. Italy was perhaps the most prominent exception, and the issue has generated considerable controversy.
Proponents of same-sex unions have complained that the law falls short of granting full equality to same-sex couples. In particular, it does not recognize same-sex marriages. It will not allow someone in a same-sex civil union to legally adopt his or her partner’s biological child. A so-called stepchild adoption provision was opposed by center-right parties and by the church and was ultimately dropped from the legislation.
The Senate approved the bill in February, but a final vote in the lower house was required for the legislation to take effect. Earlier on Wednesday, the government won a vote of confidence, 369 to 193, that it had called on Tuesday, tying its fate to the legislation.
Advocates called the lower house decision historic.
“The wall erected mostly by the Vatican against civil rights in this country has fallen, so it is a historically and politically important moment,” said Franco Grillini, the honorary president of Arcigay, an advocacy group, and a gay-rights advocate. At the same time, same-sex couples in Italy wanted marriage equality, a right held by their counterparts in the United States and many Western European countries, and he said that struggle would continue.
It has been nearly 30 years since lawmakers first proposed giving legal recognition to civil unions in Italy. The Vatican under Pope Francis, while expressing more liberal positions on some social issues, has kept up steadfast opposition to legal recognition of same-sex couples, influencing some italian lawmakers.