Tens of thousands of people demonstrated Saturday in nearly 100 cities across Italy to urge the government to permit gay and lesbian couples to have civil unions and legally recognized families.
Mirco Pierro, 39, rallied in front of the Pantheon in Rome with his partner and twin infants, saying he wanted "to defend the rights of our children, not just our rights." Pierro and his partner were married in Los Angeles but their union is not recognized in Italy and only one of them has parental rights.
"They are here. They exist, they are part of our families, and it is unfair that they do not have the same rights as other Italian children," he said. "This is the main reason that bring us here."
The gay rights group Arcigay estimated that 1 million people participated in the demonstrations, calling it "a historic day for our country."
The Italian government has pledged to pass legislation on civil unions for homosexual couples, along with measures allowing both parents, not just the biological parent, custody in a homosexual union. Campaigners say the lack of parental recognition causes problems on a daily basis for gay parents, from simple school permission forms to health care decisions.
Italy lags behind many of its European neighbors in conferring such rights due to strong opposition in this predominantly Roman Catholic nation. The opposition has submitted over 6,000 amendments to the proposed civil unions legislation in a bid to stop its passage. It is scheduled to be debated next Thursday in the Senate.