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Italy's Proposed Family Law Draws Large Protests

Hundreds of thousands of demonstrators have staged rallies in Rome to commemorate Family Day. At issue is proposed legislation that would grant greater rights to unmarried couples including homosexuals. Sabina Castelfranco has more from Rome.

Demonstrators from all over Italy gathered in a Rome square Saturday for the Family Day rally. They listened to songs like this one whose words evoked the need for children to have both a mother and a father.

Married couples with their children raised their voices to protest a proposed law that would give greater rights to unmarried couples, including gays and lesbians.

This woman says the family is important because society is based on the family and it is a value for everyone, not just Christians.

Lay Catholic groups and family associations organized the rally. They stressed the importance of policies that will favor the traditional family unit and family values based on marriage between a man and a woman.

Thousands of supporters of the controversial bill organized a counter-rally in Rome's famed Piazza Navona square. They said Italy would be a more civilized country if it gave rights to unmarried and gay couples.

This woman says she is a mother and has a family. She says it is only fair that even if she did not have a husband she should be entitled to basic civil rights.

Politicians, such as Alfonso Pecoraro Scanio of the Greens also took part in the demonstrations.

Pecoraro says Italy, like the rest of Europe, must give rights to all those who live together in this country. He says it is something simple, clear and clean.

Prime Minister Romano Prodi's center-left Cabinet proposed the controversial bill last February. Since then, it has been dividing Italians even though the proposed legislation stops short of legalizing gay marriage.

On one side are those who support calls by Pope Benedict XVI to defend the traditional family. On the other are those who say the measure would at last recognize the basic rights of people who live together outside marriage.

The draft legislation still requires parliamentary approval. Prime Minister Prodi has said lawmakers in his divided coalition are free to vote on it according to their conscience.