Recognition of same-sex unions in Italy

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Legal status of same-sex unions


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* Not yet in effect, but automatic deadline set by judicial body for same-sex marriage to become legal

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Laws regarding same-sex partnerships in Europe
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(as marriage in Israel, with unclear rights in Estonia)
  Other type of partnership¹
  Limited legal recognition¹
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¹ May include recent laws or court decisions which have created legal recognition of same-sex relationships, but which have not entered into effect yet.

Italy has recognised same-sex civil unions (Italian: unione civile)[a] since 5 June 2016, providing same-sex couples with most of the legal protections enjoyed by married couples. A bill to allow such unions, as well as gender-neutral registered partnerships, was approved by the Senate on 25 February and the Chamber of Deputies on 11 May and signed into law by the Italian President on 20 May.[1][2][3][4] The law was published in the official gazette the next day and took effect on 5 June.[5] Before this, several regions had supported a national law on civil unions and some municipalities passed laws providing for civil unions, though the rights conferred by these civil unions varied from place to place.


In 1986, the Inter-parliamentary Women's Communist group and Arcigay (Italy's main gay rights organization) for the first time raised the issue of civil unions within the Italian Parliament. This was led by Ersilia Salvato in the Italian Senate and by Romano Bianchi and Angela Bottari in the lower house who together attempted to introduce the idea of legislation. In 1988, following lobbying by Arcigay, Alma Cappiello Agate (lawyer and socialist parliamentarian) introduced the first bill in Parliament (PdL N. 2340, Directive on the de facto family, 12 February 1988), calling for the acknowledgement of cohabitation between "persons". The bill failed, but Cappiello's proposal received wide coverage in the press (where some journalists spoke about second-class marriage), and acknowledged for the first time the possibility of homosexual unions.

During the 1990s, a succession of civil union bills was regularly introduced and rejected in Parliament, bolstered by discussion in the European Parliament on equal rights for homosexuals on marriage and adoption.

During the XIIIth parliamentary session, at least ten bills were presented (by Nichi Vendola, Luigi Manconi, Gloria Buffo, Ersilia Salvato, Graziano Cioni, Antonio Soda, Luciana Sbarbati, Antonio Lisi, Anna Maria De Luca, and Mauro Paissan). None of these ever made it to a discussion on the floor of the House - not least due to the explicit influence and strident opposition of the Catholic hierarchy which often spoke up on political issues with an ethical resonance.

In September 2003, the European Parliament approved a new resolution on human rights against discrimination on the grounds of sexual orientation. Each member state had to confirm it would work to abolish any form of discrimination - legislative or de facto. During the XIVth Parliament, political activity led by Franco Grillini debated proposals for PACS which found cross-sectional support.

Grillini introduced proceedings in Parliament on 8 July 2002 based on legislation already existing in Denmark. However, the PACS principle was given particular resonance by the union of Alessio De Giorgi and Christian Pierre Panicucci on 21 October 2002 at the French Embassy in Rome. That day same, Grillini introduced the bill in Parliament; it ultimately failed but had been supported by 161 parliamentarians from the centre-left.

Prodi II Government[edit]

During the 2006 electoral campaign, the then leader of the opposition, Romano Prodi, promised to give legal rights to de facto couples if elected.[6] Mr. Prodi's left-of-centre coalition subsequently gained power and in February 2007 the Government approved a draft bill to recognise domestic partnerships under the name Diritti e doveri delle persone stabilmente Conviventi (DICO; English: Rights and duties of stable cohabitants). The bill proposed to give unmarried couples, including same-sex couples, health and social welfare benefits, and provide an entitlement to inherit after a couple has been living together for at least nine years.[7] The bill faced considerable opposition from the Catholic Church,[8] and in the Senate from the majority of the right-wing opposition and even from certain elements within Prodi's own fractious coalition. Delays meant the bill could not reach the floor for a conclusive vote.

A demonstration was held in Rome on 10 March 2007 in support of the legislation and in order to avoid it being forfeited by Prodi. Thousands of activists waved alarm clocks in the air, signalling it was high time for such a law. Some government officials (such as the Minister for Equal Opportunities, Barbara Pollastrini, and the Minister for Social Solidarity, Paolo Ferrero) took part in the demonstration and were later criticized by Prodi for their participation.[9] Two days later, the Conference of Italian Bishops (CEI) staged a counter-demonstration, also in Rome. Police sources claim that about 800,000 people went to the demonstration, including some Catholic government ministers such as Clemente Mastella and Giuseppe Fioroni.[10] On 16 June, the annual Rome Gay Pride hit a record attendance of about 1,000,000 demonstrators. The Pride parade had a strong political flavour, as LGBT associations meant it to be a response to the opposition demonstrations.[11]

Later in the year, the DICO bill was merged with other civil union proposals and the Senate's Judiciary Committee discussed a new draft known as Contratto di Unione Solidale (Contract for Social Unions). Nevertheless, in February 2008, an early election was called, thus dissolving the incumbent Parliament, and all pending legislation died in committee.

Two Italian filmmakers, Gustav Hofer and Luca Ragazzi, followed the whole discussion of the DICO law and made an award-winning documentary Suddenly, Last Winter (Improvvisamente l'inverno scorso).[12]

Berlusconi IV Government[edit]

Although the governing majority (The People of Freedom - Lega Nord) of the Berlusconi Government was elected in May 2008 without promising any improvement for same-sex couples' rights, some party MPs (such as Renato Brunetta, Minister for Innovation and Public Administration, Lucio Barani and Francesco De Luca) attempted to act independently and submitted legislation to the Parliament.[13] A proposed private member's bill called DiDoRe (Diritti e Doveri di Reciprocità dei conviventi, English: Mutual rights and duties for cohabiting partners) was introduced, but was unsuccessful. If it had been adopted, it would only have been akin to "unregistered cohabitation", as it did not provide for a public registry system.

Monti Government[edit]

The Monti Government did not enact any legislation recognising same-sex relationships. There were, however, a number of significant developments in the Italian judicial system. In 2009, a same-sex couple from Venice sued the local administration for denying them a marriage licence. The case was referred by the Tribunal of Venice to the Constitutional Court concerned at a possible conflict between the Civil Code (which does not allow for same-sex marriage) and articles 3 of the Italian Constitution (which forbids any kind of discrimination), and article 29 (which states an ambiguous gender-neutral definition of marriage). The Constitutional Court ruled on April 14, 2010 that the statutory ban on same-sex marriage was not a violation of the Constitution.[14][15]

In January 2011, the Court of Cassation reversed a lower decision which stated that an EU citizen married to an Italian citizen of the same sex was not permitted to stay in Italy, because they were not a family according to Italian law. The High Court ruled that the lower judge should have applied the European Directive 2004/38/EC on the right of the citizens of the Union to move and reside freely within the Member States.

In 2012, the courts considered the case of a same-sex couple made up of an Italian man who married an Uruguayan citizen in Spain.[16] In a landmark ruling, the Court of Cassation stated on 15 March that "same-sex couples have the same right to a family life as married straight couples", adding that "the judiciary shall grant them the same legal rights as enjoyed under marriage on a case-by-case rule". Even though the Court's judgments are not binding outside the case decided, lower courts find those judgments persuasive. Whereas the Parliament remains free to introduce same-sex unions or not, the verdict paved the way for such unions to be equivalent to marriage in all but name and for judges to recognize individual rights to cohabiting couples.[17][18] Marriages celebrated abroad going forward would allow the non-EU national partner to obtain an Italian permanent residence permit.

In May 2012, the Italy of Values political party (Italia dei Valori) became the first party to announce publicly that it would push for same-sex marriage. The party leader, Antonio Di Pietro said, "Our party has been the first in Italy to follow US president Barack Obama. We invite other Italian parties to support gay marriage. You don’t have to be shy, you have to say yes".[19]

In July 2012, the Democratic Party approved its platform on civil rights, including the recognition of same-sex unions. The secular wing of the party tried to get a vote on its motion on marriage for same-sex couples, but it was stopped by the Civil Rights board.[20] The following day, the leader of Five Star Movement, Beppe Grillo, criticised the event and came out in favour of marriage for same-sex couples.[21]

Letta Government[edit]

On 28 April 2013, the Letta Government, a grand coalition cabinet, was formed by some members from PD, PdL and SC. Only the Democratic Party and SEL pledged its support to same-sex relationship recognition during the political campaign.

On 14 May 2013, the Italian Parliament extended healthcare benefits to MPs' same-sex partners. This rule had already been in effect for heterosexual partners for decades.[22] The same month, an Italian judge registered an English civil partnership contracted by two Italian men. The registration occurred in Milan and the couple was registered in the local civil union register approved in 2012.[23]

The Equalities Minister, Josefa Idem (PD), then announced she would introduce a parliamentary bill which would recognise same-sex unions and cohabitants rights.[24] In June, the Justice Commission of the Italian Senate started to examine several bills concerning the recognition of same-sex couples.[25] Three bills (S.15, S.204 and S.393) were planned to allow same-sex couples to marry and the other three (S.197, S.239 and S.314) will allow them (and opposite-sex couples) to register their partnership as cohabitants.[26][27][28][29][30][31]

Renzi Government[edit]

On 15 December 2013, the newly elected secretary of the Democratic Party, Matteo Renzi, announced that the party would work on the recognition of same-sex relationships. During the political campaign for the election of the new party secretary, Renzi identified the solution previously used in the UK and known as civil partnerships (although Britain subsequently introduced marriage for same-sex couples in 2014).[32] Renzi subsequently became the Italian Prime Minister in February 2014. Leading Italian politicians such as Ignazio Marino, the Mayor of Rome, Giuliano Pisapia, of Milan, and Virginio Merola, of Bologna, pressed for such legislation to be urgently passed.[33]

Renzi initially planned a discussion in September 2014, and without the use of a government decree, nor of a confidence motion, that would accelerate the debate. The bill was under the Senate's Justice Committee and it was delayed several times due to the New Centre-Right filibustering. The bill would have guaranteed the same benefits reserved for marriage, but it would have been available to same-sex couples only. Furthermore, stepchild adoption was included while joint adoption wasn't, based on Germany's registered life partnerships. It was supported by a large majority: the Democratic Party, the Five Star Movement, half of Forza Italia, and Left Ecology Freedom. Some MPs opposed stepchild adoption, while others demanded same-sex marriage.[34]

On 9 February 2015, the Supreme Court of Cassation upheld the 2010 judgement of the Constitutional Court, by stating that opening marriage to same-sex couples was not unconstitutional, nor was it a constitutional right, but a parliament decision only, as well as introducing civil unions or civil partnerships.[35]

On 10 June 2015, the Chamber of Deputies, which is the lower house of the Italian Parliament, passed a motion that obliged the Government to approve a bill regarding civil unions between persons of the same sex. All the major parties presented different motions, and all were rejected except for that of the Democratic Party.[36] Just some days before, the European Parliament passed a motion requesting the members of the European Union to recognise same-sex relationships and families; however, the motion did not have the force of law.

On 21 July 2015, the European Court of Human Rights, in the case Oliari and Others v. Italy, ruled that Italy violated the European Convention on Human Rights by not recognising same-sex couples' right to family life.[37]

On 7 October 2015, a bill establishing same-sex civil unions and gender-neutral cohabitation agreements was submitted to Parliament. It had its first reading in the Senate on 14 October 2015.[38] Although Berlusconi, leader of the opposition party Forza Italia, declared his support for both the recognition of same-sex couples and stepchild adoption, many MPs from his party criticised or opposed the bill. However, despite having a free vote, Renzi wanted the bill to be approved as soon as possible.[39]

On 25 February 2016, the bill was approved by the Italian Senate in a 173-71 vote.[1] The law provides same-sex couples with most of the rights of marriage except parenting (stepchild or joint adoption) and reproductive rights (IVF for lesbian couples). The bill passed to the Chamber of Deputies where a vote was expected no earlier than mid-May.[40] On 8 March, the Justice Committee of the Chamber of Deputies started discussing the bill. During the nocturnal session of 19–20 April, the Committee sent the bill to the floor for the general debate. On 27 April, House parties' speakers decided to start the debate on 9 May and to end it on 12 May. On 11 May, the Chamber of Deputies approved the bill by 372 to 51 votes in favour, with 99 abstentions.[3][41] It was subsequently signed by President Sergio Mattarella on 20 May.[4] The law was published in the official gazette on 21 May and took effect on 5 June 2016.[5][42] On 21 July, the Italian Council of State approved a government decree setting civil union registries across the country, allowing the first civil unions to be registered in Italy in the upcoming days.[43] On 24 July, the first same-sex couple entered into a civil union, in Castel San Pietro Terme, near Bologna.[44][45]

Opponents announced they would push for a referendum to overturn the civil union law.[46]

Marriage and recognition of marriages performed abroad[edit]

On 9 April 2014, the Civil Court of Grosseto ordered that a same-sex marriage contracted abroad be recognised in the municipality. The order was then voided by the Court of Appeals of Florence.[47] Grosseto was followed by the cities of Bologna, Naples and Fano in July 2014,[48][49] Empoli, Pordenone, Udine and Trieste in September 2014,[50][51][52] and Florence, Piombino, Milan, Rome and Livorno in October 2014.[53][54][55]

In 2014, the Italian Interior Minister, Angelino Alfano, ordered all prefects to annul all registrations made by mayors recognising same-sex marriages celebrated abroad, arguing that the Italian Civil Code makes no mention of same-sex marriage and so any attempt to recognise it is therefore illegal.[56] The legal system had already been used to stop some mayors recognising same-sex couples, but all such cases were ultimately dismissed by the courts after failing to determine a particular offence.[57] Indeed, a public prosecutor in the city of Udine ruled that a prefect may not invalidate marriages agreed by municipal mayors, thus effectively annulling the order made by Alfano.[58] On 9 March 2015, the Regional Administrative Court of Lazio suspended the order made by Alfano because only civil courts, and not any prefecture, may annul the registration of same-sex marriages contracted abroad.[59] However, the court also found that overseas marriages could not be recognized in Italy because of the lack of domestic legislation.[60]

Alfano subsequently appealed to the Council of State, Italy's highest administrative court. In October 2015, the Court reversed the judgement; ruling that it is within the role of prefectures to ensure all public acts are legal. Thus all registrations of same-sex marriages made abroad cannot be recognised in Italy and must be cancelled.[61][62][63] Gay rights activists complained that Carlo Deodato, the Council of State judge who drafted the sentence, defines himself as "Catholic, married and father of two" and had already expressed his disapproval of same-sex marriage via Twitter and therefore could not be considered impartial. They promised to take an appeal to the European Court of Human Rights if necessary for violating the Italian Constitution.[64]

On 31 January 2017, the Italian Constitutional Court ruled that a same-sex marriage, conducted between two women and performed in Nord-Pas-de-Calais in France, must be recognized in Italy. The Court refused to hear the case of the mayor of the small town of Santo Stefano del Sole, who was attempting to appeal an earlier sentence passed down from the Court of Appeal of Naples, in which the marriage was officially recognized. One of two women has the right to claim Italian citizenship jus sanguinis. Thus, refusal to recognize the union was seen as being in direct violation of the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union, of the fundamental rights of European citizens, of the right of free movement for citizens throughout the member states and, lastly, of the basis of non-discrimination.[65][66][67]

On 14 December 2017, the European Court of Human Rights ruled that Italy's refusal to legally recognise the marriages of same-sex couples married abroad violates the couples' rights to respect for private and family life. The 6 couples, (of which, 3 married in Canada, 2 in the Netherlands and 1 in California) sought to have their marriages registered in Italy but Italian officials had refused, citing a 2001 order by the Ministry of Internal Affairs which said same-sex marriage is "contrary to the norms of public order." The Court also ordered Italy to pay monetary compensation to the couples.[68][69]


From July 2016 to late August 2016, 12 same-sex civil unions were performed in Italy. Turin performed one civil union, with 50 more ceremonies planned for the coming months. In Milan, 6 civil unions were performed with another 220 planned. Two civil unions took place in Florence and one in Naples. No civil unions took place in Rome in that period, but 111 civil union ceremonies followed in the coming months, of which 109 were between same-sex couples.[70] The first civil union in Rome was performed on 17 September 2016.[71]

By March 2017, 2,802 civil unions had been performed in Italy. Of these, 2,433 were celebrated in 2016. The city which saw the most unions was Milan with 354, followed by Rome with 331, Turin with 174, Florence with 123, Bologna with 98, Genoa with 85, Naples with 69, Palermo with 36 and Bari with 25. Broken down by province, the most civil unions took place (in descending order) in Lombardy (669), Lazio (376), Emilia-Romagna (307), Tuscany (293), Piedmont (291), Veneto (210), Liguria (145), Campania (105), Sicily (75), Apulia (59), Marche (54), Friuli-Venezia Giulia (49), Trentino-Südtirol (47), Sardinia (42), Umbria (36), Abruzzo (27), Calabria (8), Aosta Valley (6), Basilicata (2) and Molise (1).[72][73]

8,506 same-sex civil unions had been registered by the end of December 2017. Male couples represented approximately 75% of same-sex couples who had entered into civil unions.[74]

Views of churches[edit]

Roman Catholic Church[edit]

The Roman Catholic Church is the largest and the most influential Christian denomination in Italy. It is opposed to any recognition of same-sex relationships and has repeatedly blocked the introduction of such civil legislation.[33] However, there has been public disagreement on the issues between senior figures.

In 2007, Angelo Bagnasco (Archbishop of Genoa, and Chair of the Italian Bishop's Conference) compared the idea of recognising same-sex unions directly with state recognition for incest and paedophilia.[75][76] He later condemned a ruling made by the Tuscan courts in 2014 which, for the first time in Italy, recognized the marriage of a same-sex couple who had wed in New York.[77] He has also described civil unions and same-sex marriages as a “Trojan horse” that fundamentally weaken the institution of the family.[78]

In his book Credere e conoscere, published shortly before his death in 2012, Cardinal Carlo Maria Martini, the former Archbishop of Milan, set out his disagreement with opposition by Catholics to homosexual civil unions: "I disagree with the positions of those in the Church, that take issue with civil unions", he wrote. "It is not bad, instead of casual sex between men, that two people have a certain stability" and said that the "state could recognize them". Although he stated his belief that "the homosexual couple, as such, can never be totally equated to a marriage".[79][80]

Other churches[edit]

The Union of Methodist and Waldensian Churches became the first Italian Christian denomination to permit the blessings of same-sex couples in 2010.[81] The Lutheran Evangelical Church in Italy has allowed the blessings of same-sex unions since 2011.[82]

Public opinion[edit]

During a protest on 13 January 2007, 50,000 gay rights activists, according to the police, protested in Milan in favour of the creation of a new law regulating same-sex unions.[6]

According to a poll in February 2007, 67% of Italian Catholics backed the draft civil union bill proposed by the Prodi coalition, and 80% of Italians said they supported the law.[83] On the other hand, the autumn 2006 Eurobarometer survey showed that only 31% of Italians thought that same-sex marriages should be allowed throughout Europe and 24% were in favour of opening up adoption to same-sex couples. This was below the European Union average of 44% and 32% respectively.[84]

A Eurispes poll conducted in early 2009 showed that 40.4% of Italians supported same-sex civil marriage, while 18.5% supported civil unions but not marriage. Thus, 58.9% of respondents supported some form of recognition for same-sex couples. The only area with majority support for same-sex marriage was in the north-west (Piedmont and Liguria, where 54.8% were in favour of it). Nevertheless, in every Italian region except Sicily, a majority supported some form of recognition for same-sex couples. Among those who considered themselves on the political left, 66.5% supported same-sex marriage.[85] The same poll was repeated in January 2010: 41.0% of respondents supported same-sex marriage, with 20.4% supporting civil unions. Thus, support for some form of recognition for same-sex couples rose to 61.4%.[86]

On the occasion of the International Day against Homophobia on 17 May 2012, the National Bureau of Statistics (ISTAT) released an official report commissioned by the Government on the attitudes towards homosexuality among the Italian population. The poll, conducted in 2011, found that 62.8% of the interviewees were in favour of civil unions with the same rights as marriage. Those who agreed with same-sex marriage increased to 43.9%, with central Italy (52.6%), 18–34 years old (53.4%) and women (47%) being the geographical, age and gender categories most in favour. Significantly, every region supported civil unions, with support being highest in central Italy (72.2%) and lowest in the south (51.2%).[87]

A May 2013 Ipsos poll found that 48% of respondents were in favour of same-sex marriage and another 31% supported other forms of recognition for same-sex couples.[88]

According to an Ifop poll, conducted in May 2013, 42% of Italians supported allowing same-sex couples to marry and adopt children.[89]

An October 2014 Demos poll found that 55% of respondents were in favour of same-sex marriage with 42% against.[90]

The 2015 Eurobarometer found that 55% of Italians thought that same-sex marriage should be allowed throughout Europe, 35% were against.[91]

In January 2016, a poll showed that 46% were in favour and 40% against civil unions for same-sex couples. With regards to same-sex marriage, 38% were in favour and 55% were against. Finally, 85% of those polled were against adoption by same-sex couples.[92]

In February 2016, days after the Senate approved the civil union bill, a new poll showed again a large majority in favour of civil unions (69%), a majority for same-sex marriage (56%), but still, only a minority approving of stepchild adoption (37%).[93]

A Pew Research Center poll, conducted between April and August 2017 and published in May 2018, showed that 59% of Italians supported same-sex marriage, 38% were opposed and 3% didn't know or refused to answer.[94] When divided by religion, 83% of religiously unaffiliated people, 70% of non-practicing Christians and 44% of church-attending Christians supported same-sex marriage.[95] Opposition was 27% among 18-34-year-olds.[96]

In 2019, a poll conducted by Eurispes found that 51% of Italians supported the legalisation of same-sex marriage. Same-sex adoption was supported by 31.1%, while 68.9% were against it.[97]

Italians support for gay rights 2009 2010 2012 2013 2014 2016 2017
recognition for same-sex couples 58.9% 61.4% 62.8% 79% - 69% -
same-sex marriage 40.4% 41% 43.9% 48% 55% 56% 59%
civil unions but not marriage 18.5% 20.4% 18.9% 31% - 13% -

Local civil union registries and other local initiatives[edit]

By early 2016, more than 320 municipalities and cities throughout Italy had introduced civil union registries (registro delle unioni civili) which formally recognise same-sex couples.[98] These registers mostly have a symbolic value and are not legally binding, even though in some cases they offer very limited local benefits. Major cities which offer civil union registries include Rome, Bologna, Padua, Florence, Pisa, Bolzano, Palermo, Naples, Milan, Genoa, Bari, Catania, Brescia and Turin.

Demonstrators in favour of PACS, February 2006. The cartoon reads: "What if I get ill?".

In July 2012, Mayor Giuliano Pisapia promised to introduce a formal register of same-sex civil unions for the city of Milan, the largest city in Northern Italy, which would be designed to afford some legal protections to same-sex couples who cohabit, but these would not be equivalent to marriage rights. A spokesman for the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Milan responded by arguing there was a "risk that giving equal status to families based on marriage with those founded on civil unions will legitimise polygamy".[99] On July 27, 2012, the Town Council approved the register in a 29-7 vote.[100]

In January 2013, a hospital in Padua recognized same-sex parents for the first time in Italy. The hospital replaced the words "mother" and "father" with the gender-neutral word "parent".[101] In August 2013, a Venice city councillor proposed to replace the word "mother" and "father" in local documents (on local school premises) with the words "parent 1" and "parent 2" (Genitore 1 and Genitore 2). The project ignited a debate in which the Minister of Integration, Cécile Kyenge, intervened and praised the bid. The motion was later not pursued. The Venice proposal then arrived in Bologna, where the executive body of the city proposed an alternative resolution, replacing "mother" and "father" with "parent" and "other parent" (Genitore and Altro Genitore).[102]

In January 2015, the Rome City Council approved, in a 32-10 vote, a civil union registry, allowing same-sex and opposite-sex civil unions to be registered in the city.[103] The registry came into effect on 21 May 2015. That day, 20 couples - 14 of them gay and 6 of them straight - sealed their commitment to one another at Rome's City Hall.[104]

On 4 March 2015, the Sicilian Regional Assembly voted with 50 ayes, 5 nays and 15 abstained for the creation of a regional civil union register that allows couples, whether heterosexual or homosexual, to enjoy every regional government benefit. The law was particularly desired by Rosario Crocetta, the first openly gay President of Sicily. Liguria and Sicily are the only two regions with such a legislation.[105]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ French: union civile; German: eingetragene Partnerschaft; Sardinian: unione civile


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  15. ^ (in Italian) From Corriere della Sera website
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  30. ^ (in Italian) Atto Senato n. 239
  31. ^ (in Italian) Atto Senato n. 314
  32. ^ (in Italian) Il no di Grillo a Renzi 'Voto con Mattarellum'
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