- The Washington Times - Sunday, May 13, 2007

ROME — Hundreds of thousands of Italians rallied in a church square yesterday to protest a proposed law that would give greater rights to unmarried couples, including homosexuals.

The draft legislation has divided Italy’s ruling coalition, angered the powerful Roman Catholic Church and stirred passionate debate.

Waving banners and dancing to tambourines and trumpets, more than 500,000 people poured into the square outside Rome’s St. John Lateran cathedral to support traditional family values based on marriage between a man and a woman.

A large cardboard wedding cake with a bride and groom on top stood next to the stage, while nuns, parents and children chanted “Long live the family.”

A host of conservative politicians, including former Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi and some members of current Prime Minister Romano Prodi’s government, showed up, after days of speculation and debate over who would and should attend.

“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.

The rally’s organizers — a consortium of largely Catholic groups — handed out millions of flyers and plastered lampposts and walls with posters in a publicity blitz before the event that ensured a strong turnout.

Not far away at Piazza Navona, hundreds gathered at a counterdemonstration to support rights for homosexual couples, egged on by tourists.

Counterdemonstrators sang along to popular music, waved communist flags and held banners that read “Family Day — No thanks, Family Gay” and “Benedict XVI … Century,” referring to Pope Benedict, who has exhorted Catholic lawmakers to oppose homosexual “marriage.”

The large turnout at Family Day was expected to embarrass Mr. Prodi, whose government sponsored the bill to give more rights to unmarried couples in practical matters like welfare and inheritance.

The bill was immediately attacked by the church, which sees it as an assault on family values by the left and a “Trojan horse” that could ultimately usher in civil marriage ceremonies for homosexuals.

Members of Mr. Prodi’s government, such as Justice Minister Clemente Mastella, also came out swinging against the bill, and the Family Day rally has become the latest issue to expose divisions within the Catholics-to-communists coalition.

Mr. Mastella and Education Minister Giuseppe Fiorini ignored a fellow minister’s plea to avoid the rally as a matter of correctness, while European Affairs Minister Emma Bonino turned up at the “Secular Courage” counterdemonstration.

Mr. Prodi, a practicing Catholic, was in Stuttgart, Germany, yesterday 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,” Mr. Prodi told Italian radio. “In all modern countries, secularists and Catholics live together.”

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