Italy has passed legislation legalizing same-sex civil unions. It's the last country in Western Europe to do so.
The measure was approved despite "strong opposition from the Catholic Church and conservative politicians," NPR's Sylvia Poggioli tells our Newscast unit. She adds:
"The legislation grants same-sex couples many of the same rights as married couples — the possibility to have the same last name, inheritance, hospital visitation and medical decision-making rights. But it stops short of same-sex marriage.
"Originally presented in 2013, strong opposition to the bill forced the government to drop the stepchild-adoption clause. Social conservatives and Catholics saw that as a step toward legalizing surrogate motherhood, which is illegal in Italy."
The New York Times reports that Wednesday's vote (372 to 51, with 99 abstentions) was met with "long applause in the Chamber of Deputies, the lower house of Parliament." The legislation passed the Senate earlier this year.
The Associated Press notes that Italy is "the last of the European Union's 28 nations to grant legal recognition to civil unions." Gay-rights advocates emphasized the historic nature of the vote.
"The wall erected mostly by the Vatican against civil rights in this country has fallen, so it is a historically and politically important moment," Franco Grillini, honorary leader of the advocacy group Arcigay, said according to the Times.
Still, many were hoping the law would go further. "It is lacking full equality, which is what we were asking for," Gabriele Piazzoni, national secretary for Arcigay, tells the AP. "But still, this is a crucial moment."
Italian lawmakers first proposed legalizing civil unions some 30 years ago, the Times reports.
Reuters says the bill also grants further rights to unmarried heterosexual couples — they "get the right to be treated as each other's next of kin if one partner is taken ill, dies or is imprisoned. They also get some rights to a shared home."
Sylvia adds that conservative lawmakers have vowed to "call for a referendum to repeal the law."