Italians rebuke bill to redefine 'family'

Catholic organizations lead a rally against the proposal giving rights to unmarried couples.

Published May 13, 2007

ROME - Tens of thousands of mothers, fathers, sons and daughters rallied Saturday to tell Italy that they alone should be counted as families, pressuring Parliament to reject legislation that would grant new rights to unmarried and same-sex couples.

The "Family Day" rally, drawing hundreds of thousands of demonstrators in an unexpectedly strong outpouring, was organized by lay Catholic groups and family associations. While the demonstration has been endorsed by Italian bishops, neither the Vatican nor the Italian bishops' conference is formally behind it.

"With this demonstration, we wanted to give a signal. It must not be a sporadic event, but it must contribute to dialogue and help (people) understand family must be protected, " said Emanuele Cirillo, a 27-year-old Neapolitan who had traveled to Rome for the demonstration.

People from across Italy began pouring into the massive St. John Lateran piazza in the morning. The demonstrators were entertained by singers, speakers and even a brief video featuring the late John Paul II, the beloved pontiff who died in 2005, in a 1988 speech about the need to protect family.

Clowns and stilt walkers mingled with the crowd to entertain the children.

By the end of the day, organizers said as many as 1.5-million people had shown. Earlier, police had put the number of participants at 250, 000 but the crowd grew as the day went along.

Prime Minister Romano Prodi's Cabinet passed the legislation at the center of the debate last February, and the bill now requires parliamentary approval.

The proposed legislation would grant legal rights to unmarried couples who live together, including hospital visits and inheritance. It does not legalize gay marriage, as was done in other European countries, such as Spain.