By Lara Palmisano.

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The European Court of Human Rights condemned Italy on Tuesday for failing to provide legal recognition to same-sex couples and said the country should introduce some form of civil union for homosexual couples.

Italy is the only major western European country that does not recognize either civil partnerships or gay marriage. 24 out of 47 member states of the Council of Europe rights watchdog had already legislated in favor of same-sex unions.

Italy was taken to the Strasbourg-based European court by three homosexual couples who had complained that the country was discriminating against them because of their sexual orientation. They claimed this was a breach of Article 8 – the right to respect for private and family life – of the European Convention on Human Rights.

“The Court considered that the legal protection currently available in Italy to same-sex couples not only failed to provide for the core needs relevant to a couple in a stable committed relationship, but it was also not sufficiently reliable,” it said.

Hundreds of thousands of people marched in Rome last month against the proposed law legalizing civil unions for homosexual couples. However, support for same-sex unions has risen in Italy, especially after another predominantly Roman Catholic country, Ireland, voted in May to legalize gay marriage. In fact, the European Court of Human Rights said Tuesday that according to recent surveys a majority of Italians support legal recognition for same-sex couples.

Being gay in Italy is complicated, between the Catholic Church and a long history with traditions that are difficult to modernize. On the one hand, some Italian cities are among the most gay-friendly spots in all of Europe, according to countless surveys on gay life. But at the same time, the Catholic Church in Rome and a number of Italian lawmakers are convinced that same-sex marriage is a threat to traditional families.

Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi said his government would introduce a law on civil unions by the end of the year, but the draft legislation that would authorize civil unions is currently blocked in the Senate.

The junior minister, Ivan Scalfarotto, has just consequently ended a hunger strike he had started in early July to protest at the lack of legislation, against those people who present themselves as Fundamentalist Catholics and those political parties that believe they are representing this part of the Catholic world, which are stopping the process.

As Scalfarotto said in a recent interview: “Please, Italians, stand for your GLBTI rights and for your fellow LGBTI citizens, but be aware that, by doing this, you’re fighting for yourselves because you’re working for a better country, for a better society, which is more inclusive, more respectful- at the end, better.”

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