A bill that would allow Italian same-sex couples to enter into civil unions received final approval on Wednesday.
The measure passed in the Chamber of Deputies, which is the lower house of the Italian Parliament, by a 372-51 vote margin. The New York Times reported there were 99 abstentions.
Same-sex couples in Italy lack many of the legal protections that exist in other European countries.
The Italian Senate approved the civil unions bill in February after members of Prime Minister Matteo Renzi’s Democratic Party agreed to remove a provision that would have extended second-parent adoption rights to same-sex couples. Wednesday’s vote is the culmination of efforts to legally recognize same-sex couples in Italy that began nearly three decades ago.
“Today is a day of celebration for many,” wrote Renzi on Facebook.
Gabriele Piazzoni, national secretary of Arcigay, an Italian LGBT advocacy group, acknowledged in a statement that same-sex couples will not receive full marriage rights under the civil unions bill. He nevertheless celebrated Wednesday’s historic vote.
“This law comes very late and with many limitations,” said Piazzoni. “But it breaks down a wall and marks an important milestone. From here we must immediately start to revive the battle for full equality.”
ILGA-Europe also celebrated the vote.
“11 May is now a significant date for the Italian LGBTI movement,” it said in a statement. “Their persistent advocacy work was rewarded today as the Italian Chamber of Deputies voted in favor of a civil union bill in a final vote.”
“This means that same-sex couples in Italy are legally recognized for the first time,” added ILGA-Europe.
Out and Equal Workplace CEO Selisse Berry last month traveled to Italy where she met with representatives of Johnson & Johnson, General Electric, Proctor & Gamble and other corporations. She told the Washington Blade in a statement that businesses also played a role in building support for the civil unions bill across the country.
“I am delighted that Italy has joined the many countries around the world that recognize same-sex unions and protect LGBT families,” Berry told the Blade. “We are especially thankful to our many corporate partners who have led the way in Italy and all over the world, helping governments see the inherent value in equality.”
Italy’s highest court ruled in February 2015 that 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 in the predominantly Roman Catholic country face human rights violations because they are not “sufficiently” recognized.
The Vatican was among the most outspoken opponents of the civil unions bill.