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Last Updated: Sunday, 15 February, 2004, 00:18 GMT
Italy's gays pucker up for law change

By Tamsin Smith
BBC's Italy reporter

Italian gay rights campaigners organised a mass kiss-in on Valentine's Day in the centre of Rome.

Thousands of gay and lesbian couples puckered up in a romantic smooch to call for legal rights for same-sex couples.

A couple at the Italian kiss-in
Same-sex couples in Italy have no shared rights
The music and carnival atmosphere from Rome's Piazza Farnese echoed around the city.

"Come on, let's kiss in the face of Silvio Berlusconi,"' shouted drag queen Regina from the stage.

The crowd cheered and waved purple flats energetically.

The mass kiss itself only lasted about 10 seconds but people taking part hoped to send a more lasting message of protest to Italy's political and religious establishment.

"Italy is one of the very few European Union countries that doesn't recognise same sex couples, and this has to change," explains Sergio lo Giudice, chairman of the gay lobby group Arcigay.

"We want a law to give same-sex partnerships similar legal rights to married couples."

No shared rights

The Netherlands and Belgium have fully recognised same-sex unions in the eyes of the law.

Others like France, Germany and Denmark allow homosexual couples to register their partnerships with the local authorities and to obtain some of the social benefits available to heterosexual couples.

Sergio lo Giudice
People in the street are thinking differently but not political parties... they are too afraid of the Vatican
Sergio lo Giudice
Chair of Arcigay

Same-sex couples living in Italy though find they have no shared rights to property, social security and inheritance.

Fabrizio, an engineer, and his boyfriend Eddie, a student, live in Rome and have been together for five years.

"Even though we know our relationship will last, our lives and future are so uncertain," says Eddie.

"If we stay here in Italy, we don't see ourselves as lawfully recognised, for example we can't buy a flat together in both our names."

Fabrizio agrees: "Insurance is another example .. if I die, then everything will go to my parents and not to Eddie.

"It's the same story if I am in hospital, then only my family are allowed in to stay with me... this is unfair as I don't even have a good relationship with my family."

'Deep-seated opposition'

But gay rights campaigners in Italy face deep-seated opposition from the Vatican, which just last year launched a global campaign against homosexual unions.

In a special document, the Vatican urged politicians to follow their "moral duty" and to fight against any bill in parliament to legalised gay marriage.

Patrizia and Christina
We've come here to show we exist, that our rights matter just the same as those of married couples
Patrizia and Christina
Opinions within much of Italy's right wing political establishment seem to toe the line.

"We will fight against any form of homosexual marriage because we believe in procreation," says Emiliano Arrigo, spokesman for Allianza Nazionale, part of Italy's centre right governing coalition.

"We don't see why the state... our country... should have to pay for welfare benefits for people who won't procreate."

Gay rights campaigners are optimistic though that public opinion is swinging in their favour.

"Opinion polls show us that people in the street are starting to think differently," explains Sergio lo Giudice, "but not in the political parties... they are just too afraid of the Vatican."

Changing these deeply conservative attitudes towards homosexuality will take more than just a Valentine's kiss.

Gays rush to wed in San Francisco
14 Feb 04  |  Americas
Pope condemns gay rights march
09 Jul 00  |  Europe

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