Tens of thousands Saturday staged the Gay Pride parade in Rome, urging the Italian government to fast-track plans to grant homosexual couples legal status and override Vatican objections.
The raucous and colourful crowd, which included transvestites and lawmakers, marched under a baking sun from Rome's Saint Paul's Gate to the Basilica of Saint John Lateran, the official ecclesiastical seat of the Pope as Bishop of Rome, where anti-gay protestors had staged a giant rally last month. The marchers held up banners screaming: "For a more European Italy," "Rights for All," and "Equality, Dignity and Secularism," as they called upon Prime Minister Romano Prodi to speed up plans to recognise gay unions. "We are heteros, gays, lesbians and bisexual and we want Romano Prodi to give the same rights to all.
Where are all the promises the government made? Evaporated into nothingness?" questioned a drag queen, seated on one of the several floats that went around. Vladimir Luxuria, a transvestite lawmaker who wore a grey and red satin gown, told AFP: "I hope that 2007 will be the year when the rights of gays, lesbians and bisexuals are recognised to give us all more peaceful lives."
Several government ministers turned up to demonstrate their support. "I am here to salute the participants of the Gay Pride ... because their demands are positive. They bring up problems and questions which concern all Italians," Social Solidarity Minister Paolo Ferrero said. Prodi's government proposed allowing civil unions, called DICO in Italy, in February. The planned law, which would also give unmarried heterosexual couples more rights, has met with strong opposition from conservatives and centre-left Catholics in parliament. Pope Benedict XVI has recently spoken out against hedonism and the "worrying disorientation" of society, with marriage and the family under attack. He also upheld the traditional values of fidelity in marriage and chastity for priests.
Top Italian Archbishop Angelo Bagnasco recently received a bullet and his photograph stamped with a swastika in the mail, apparently for his opposition to civil unions. Bagnasco, who is archbishop of Genoa and also president of the Italian Episcopal Conference, maintains that a family can only be founded on marriage between a man and a woman and has appeared to compare same-sex partnerships to incest or paedophilia.