Milan has joined the Italian cities offering formal recognition for same-sex couples with a ‘civil union’ registry.
But it is still well short of gay and lesbian marriage equality and does not offer legal rights or responsibilities.
Local councils across Italy are starting to set up a Registro delle Unioni Civili, where people can register as couples.
The first couple to enter their names in Milan’s registry were Paolo Oddi and Paolo Hutter who signed their civil union certificate to a blaze of camera flashes in the city’s town hall across the road from the Scala opera house.
Hutter praised Milan’s mayor Giuliano Pisapia for allowing it to happen in the presence of liberal TV host Gad Lerner and left wing councilors.
Hutter, a former member of the city council, is a veteran gay-rights activist who had staged same-sex ‘marriages’ at the mayor’s office 20 years ago when in 1992 he had ‘married’ 10 couples, nine formed by men, one by women.
The ground had been laid for the historic unions back on 26 July when the city council approved plans for the register at 3.40am in the presence of an excited crowd.
The council meeting at the Palazzo Marino city hall was the third and final session on the matter. The decision was backed with 29 in favor, seven against and four abstentions.
When Mayor Giuliano Pisapia gave his formal announcement, celebrations erputed.
The local clergy predicted ‘the end of civilization’ as a result. The spokesman on family issues for the powerful Catholic Milan diocese, Alfonso Colzani, even declared the introduction of civil partnerships for straight and gay couples could ‘legitimize polygamy’.
But the move was naturally welcomed by LGBT campaigners. They gathered on 27 June in Piazza della Scala, in front of Palazzo Marino city hall, to give passers-by little bags of rice, symbolizing good luck in marriages.
They had conducted a survey to ask people if they would prefer a proper marriage or civil partnerships for same-sex couples, in a bid to boost the debate, among Milanesi – the city’s locals.
Despite a long history of legislative proposals for civil unions, Italy does not recognize any form of same-sex marriage. Some municipalities have passed laws providing for partnerships but these do provide any real benefits and are mostly of symbolic value.
However Matteo Renzi, Florence’s modernizing mayor, has promised to introduce full civil partnerships within 100 days of winning a general election.
He is currently hoping to be chosen as the next leader of the Partito Democratico (Democratic Party, center left), one of the two leading parties in the country – and may, therefore, be a future Italian prime minister.