Thousands protest in Milan, Rome after Pope Benedict XVI condemns gay unions, reaffirms Vatican’s stance against country’s abortion law
ROME Tens of thousands of women marched through Milan to keep Italy’s liberal abortion law intact while gays rallied in Rome to push for legal recognition for same-sex couples as both issues heated up in the campaign for the premiership.
The Vatican and ministers in Premier Silvio Berlusconi’s conservative government were scathing in denouncing Saturday’s rallies.
“These demonstrators are really nauseating,” Reforms Minister Roberto Calderoli was quoted as saying by the Italian news agency ANSA. “Family is a serious thing, based on love between a man and a woman.” He is a member of the right-wing Northern League party.
Culture Minister Rocco Buttiglione, who is close to the Vatican, told reporters that people’s energy should be spent on pro-family efforts like finding jobs and housing.
“These are the political problems you should put the spotlight on,” Buttiglione said. “Because without children, Italy dies.”
Vatican newspaper L’Osservatore Romano denounced as “provocations” efforts to give legal recognition to unmarried couples “independent of whether the partners are of different or the same sex.” A program on Vatican Radio described the rally in Piazza Farnese, one of historic Rome’s loveliest squares, as “ideological sexuality.”
A crowd of gays and their supporters filled the Rome square to lobby for legal recognition for both gay and unmarried heterosexual couples. “Let’s free love from religious phobia,” read one banner in the crowd, estimated by police to number about 1,000.
Piazza Farnese, where the French Embassy has its home in a Renaissance palace, was chosen for the Rome rally because in 2002 two Italian men registered their union at the French Consulate under a French law giving broad legal rights to gay couples. One of the two men also had French citizenship.
The Milan demonstration, whose slogan was “Let’s emerge from silence,” was organized by women concerned that Catholic politicians, encouraged by the Vatican, would try to undo a 1978 law which makes abortion legal in the first three months of pregnancy.
Milan police estimated that some 50,000 people joined in the march, which ended in the square in front of the Duomo, the city’s Gothic cathedral.
The events came two days after Pope Benedict XVI on Jan 12 said it was wrong to give legal recognition to gay unions and also reaffirmed the Vatican’s condemnation of abortion.
Pope Benedict XVI said doctors should not give women the abortion pill because it hides the “gravity” of taking a human life, and also said it was wrong to give legal recognition to gay unions.
Benedict reaffirmed church teaching on both abortion and the sanctity of marriage between a man and a woman during an audience with officials from Rome and its surrounding Lazio region touching on two major issues on Italy’s political agenda before general elections in April.
Benedict said pregnant women, particularly those in difficult situations, needed concrete help, and said officials should “avoid introducing drugs that hide in some way the gravity of abortion, as a choice against life.”
In other comments, Benedict stressed that marriage between man and woman was the cornerstone of society and not some “casual sociological construction” that could be replaced.
“It’s a serious error to obscure the value and function of the legitimate family founded on matrimony, attributing to other forms of unions improper legal recognition, for which there really is no social need,” he said.
Italy does not recognize unions of unmarried couples. Gay and lesbian associations have been pushing for common law couples to have legal recognition in hopes the move might pave the way for granting legal status to gay couples.
The center-left candidate for premier, Romano Prodi, has said his coalition would give legal status to unmarried couples if it wins the April 9 vote, but he has not supported legalizing gay marriage.
The president of the Italian Bishops’ Conference, Cardinal Camillo Ruini, has said that common-law status might be applied to offer some legal protection to unmarried heterosexual couples offering a rare exception to the church’s condemnation of de facto unions.
Politicians in the center-left opposition challenging Berlusconi in April 9 voting have been divided over how far to go in granting rights to gay men and lesbians who live together.
This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition of January 20, 2006.