ROME (AP) - The head of Italy's bishops lashed out Monday at a government proposal to give same-sex couples rights similar to those of married people and criticized euthanasia in a speech that provoked an immediate political backlash.
Premier Romano Prodi's center-left government has pledged to come up with legislation to safeguard rights for all unmarried couples, including same-sex ones, by the end of January. The issue has been divisive in a predominantly Catholic country closely watched by the Vatican.
"It must be said that (gay unions) are at odds with basic anthropological facts, in particular with the nonexistence of the blessing of generating children, which is the specific reason for the social recognition of marriage," Cardinal Camillo Ruini said in an address to the Italian bishops' conference.
Proponents of the proposed law accused the cardinal of interfering in Italy's political affairs.
Ruini spoke "like a premier or the head of a political party setting his agenda to the government and Parliament," said Daniele Capezzone, of the tiny Radical Party.
But right-wing politicians opposed to the proposal praised Ruini's stance as a defense of the traditional family.
"Even in lay politics, we have a responsibility to defend the family," lawmaker Maurizio Gasparri was quoted as saying by the Apcom agency. "We must follow Ruini's warning not to break up the family, and to protect the natural one based on marriage."
The proposed legislation would give unmarried couples inheritance rights, joint medical insurance, visiting rights in prisons and hospitals, and the right to make decisions in case one partner becomes ill.
He also warned that attempts to allow living wills in Italy could legitimize euthanasia, and defended the church's decision not to allow a religious funeral for a paralyzed man who had a doctor disconnect his respirator.
The cardinal said the man, Piergiorgio Welby, had repeatedly expressed his desire to end his life, and allowing him a religious funeral "would have legitimized an attitude that is contrary to God's laws."
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