ANSA, an Italian news agency, reported the measure passed by a 173-71 vote margin with zero abstentions.
“This day will remain in the chronicle of this legislature and in the history of our country,” wrote Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi on his Facebook page.
Senators approved the bill a day after members of Renzi’s Democratic Party agreed to remove provisions that would have extended second-parent adoption rights to same-sex couples and required them to remain faithful to each other.
ANSA reported that Sen. Monica Cirinnà, who introduced the measure, described Thursday’s vote as a “victory with a hollow heart.”
“This is a very important measure, but I am also thinking of the children of so many friends,” she said, according to ANSA.
LGBT News Italia Director Andrea Miluzzo also expressed disappointment over the vote.
“I am deeply disappointed and saddened,” he told the Washington Blade on Thursday. “This is a law that discriminates against us and says that homosexual persons cannot be good parents.”
Civil unions bill ‘not the law’ Italians support
Same-sex couples in Italy lack many of the legal protections that exist in other Western European countries.
Italy’s highest court in February 2015 ruled gays and lesbians do not have the right to marry under the country’s constitution. The European Court of Human Rights a few months later said same-sex couples face human rights violations in the predominantly Roman Catholic country because it has not “sufficiently” recognized them.
Advocates last month staged dozens of protests across Italy in support of the civil unions bill. Tens of thousands of people on Jan. 30 gathered in Rome’s Circus Maximus to urge lawmakers to oppose the measure.
“Voting in favor of legal recognition for same-sex couples is a hugely important and symbolic moment for LGBTI people in Italy,” said Brian Sheehan, co-chair of ILGA-Europe’s Executive Board, on Thursday in a statement his organization released after the vote. “The Italian public already clearly demonstrated their support for greater equality when a million people all across the country came onto the streets a few weeks ago. But this is not the law that they supported — the LGBTI community had been calling for protection for couples and their children. The two amendments do not respect the dignity of existing LGBTI families.”
The bill will now go before the lower house of the Italian Parliament.