By Peter J. Smith

  ROME, February 9, 2007 ( –Italy’s government has approved a civil unions bill granting legal rights once reserved for married spouses to unmarried couples, including same-sex couples.

  The “rights of cohabiting people” or “DICO” bill was approved in a special cabinet session and has divided the coalition government of Prime Minister Romano Prodi, which includes centrist Christian Democrats and Communists.

  Justice Minister Clemente Mastella, a devout Catholic, boycotted the cabinet vote saying he opposed the bill because “it seeks solutions and guarantees which imitate marriage”.

“For us, the family, as stipulated by the Constitution, is only that founded on marriage,’’ said Mastella, who leads a small Catholic party that allows Prodi’s government to have its fragile one seat majority in the Senate.

  The proposed civil unions bill has created a furor in the Italian Parliament, where Italian politicians have warned that the bill is part of program to destroy the traditional family by undermining marriage.

“They are destroying the family,” warned the deputy speaker of the Senate, Roberto Calderoli. “This … is just a Trojan Horse to allow marriage between gays.”

  While the bill does not go as far as the civil unions legislation in other European countries like France and the United Kingdom, it does give unmarried couples (same-sex couples included) health and social welfare benefits, and provides an entitlement to inherit only after a couple has been living together for at least nine years.

  The Vatican has been leading a campaign with Italian pro-family advocates against legal recognition for unmarried and same-sex couples, warning Prodi’s government was waging a “senseless battle” to “eradicate” the traditional family. Pope Benedict XVI has repeated that traditional marriage between men and women was a “pillar of humanity,” and that pseudo-marriage arrangements were “dangerous and counterproductive.”

“Only the foundation of complete and irrevocable love between man and woman is capable of forming the basis of a society that becomes the home of all men,” Benedict XVI said to a conference at the John Paul II Pontifical Institute last year.

  A Vatican document released in 2003, “Considerations Regarding Proposals to Give Legal Recognition to Unions Between Homosexual Persons,” states that no legal recognition of homosexual unions can be permissible, regardless of how any rights granted would differ from marriage.

  See related coverage:
  Pope: Legal Recognition of Gay Unions is “Dangerous and Counterproductive”

  Vatican Says Italian Government Wants to “Eradicate” Traditional Family

  Head ‘Justice and Peace’ Cardinal Fights Gay Civil Unions in Italy

  New Italian Government in Clash With Vatican over Homosexual Civil Unions

  70% of Italians Oppose Same-Sex ‘Marriage’ Says Latest Poll