Anti-gay rally draws hundreds of thousands to Rome

Anthony Cuesta | May 14, 2007

ROME — Hundreds of thousands rallied Saturday in Rome, Italy to tell the government that gay couples should not be counted as families, pressuring parliament to reject legislation that would grant new rights to unmarried couples.

Organized by lay Catholic groups, the "Family Day" rally druw hundreds of thousands of demonstrators in an unexpectedly strong outpouring.

The draft legislation, which requires parliamentary approval, has divided Italy's ruling coalition, angered the powerful Roman Catholic church and stirred passionate debate. It 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.

"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, 27, to the Associated Press. The AP reports that 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.

"The family is in danger because the more freedom and options you allow in creating other unions outside the natural family made of a husband and a wife with children, the more society itself dissolves," said one participant, William Bergamini to Reuters.

By the end of the day, the AP reports as many as 1.5 millions people had shown up, while police did not give a final estimate.

The bill�s critics say the legislation would dismantle the traditional family by offering an alternative model. Supporters argue that the bill would make Italy a more civilized nation by recognizing the basic rights of people who live outside marriage, and organized a counter-rally in Rome.

"We came here today to protest against those traditional families who think only they represent a real form of family," said Alberico Nunziata, 30, who is gay, to the AP. "There is no need to get married in order to achieve something as a couple, there can be also different form of unions between two people, we personally hope to build a lot together.�

Italian Prime Minister Romano Prodi, a practicing Catholic, was in Stuttgart on Saturday and urged Italians to avoid fighting like the "Guelphs and Ghibellines" – rival Italian factions that fought in the 12th and 13th centuries.

"We must not manipulate religion," Prodi told Italian radio. "In all modern countries, secularists and Catholics live together." – Issued by Gay Link Content

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