Women march in Milan to demand keeping abortion law intact while gays rally in Rome
ROME – Tens of thousands of women marched through Milan on Saturday to demand Italy keep its liberal abortion law intact while gays rallied in Rome to push for legal recognition for homosexual couples.Both topics have become issues in Italy’s election campaign, and the Roman Catholic Church and ministers in Premier Silvio Berlusconi’s conservative government were scathing in denouncing the rallies.”These demonstrators are really nauseating,” Reforms Minister Roberto Calderoli, a member of the right-wing Northern League, was quoted as saying by the Italian news agency ANSA. “Family is a serious thing, based on love between a man and a woman.”Culture Minister Rocco Buttiglione, who is close to the Vatican, told reporters that people’s energy should be spent on pro-family efforts like finding jobs and housing.”These are the political problems you should put the spotlight on, because without children, Italy dies,” Buttiglione said.The Vatican newspaper, L’Osservatore Romano, denounced as “provocations” efforts to give legal recognition to unmarried couples “independent of whether the partners are of different or the same sex.” A program on Vatican Radio described the gay rally in Piazza Farnese as “ideological sexuality.”A crowd of gays and their supporters filled the Rome square to lobby for legal recognition for both gay and unmarried heterosexual couples. “Let’s free love from religious phobia,” read one banner in the crowd, estimated by police to number about 1,000.Piazza Farnese, where a Renaissance palace is home to the French Embassy, was chosen for the rally because in 2002 two Italian men registered their union at the French consulate under a French law giving broad legal rights to gay couples. One of the two men also had French citizenship.Paola Pollice, 38, and Marco Sodini, 40, unmarried, brought their three children to the rally. “We are here to offer our support to non-heterosexual couples and their families,” Sodini said.The Milan demonstration, whose slogan was “Let’s emerge from silence,” was organized by women concerned that Catholic politicians, encouraged by the Vatican, will try to undo a 1978 law that makes abortion legal during the first three months of pregnancy.Police estimated 50,000 people joined in the march, which ended in the square in front of the Duomo, the city’s Gothic cathedral.The events came two days after Pope Benedict XVI said it was wrong to give legal recognition to gay unions and also reaffirmed the Vatican’s condemnation of abortion.Italian bishops have made abortion a campaign issue for the first time since 1981, when Italians upheld the law in a referendum that had been backed by the Vatican in a bid to overturn the legislation.Politicians in the center-left opposition challenging Berlusconi in April 9 parliamentary elections have been divided over how far to go in granting rights to homosexuals who live together. It is a delicate question for Romano Prodi, a Catholic who is Berlusconi’s opponent for the premiership.