A large demonstration was held in Rome Sunday to protest plans by the Italian government to introduce civil unions for homosexual couples as well as education on gender in Italian public schools.
The demonstrators gathered peacefully and in large numbers in San Giovanni Square, one of the major squares of the "Eternal City," where concerts and speeches were held in spite of the light rain. The rally was dubbed "Family Day," and the protesters held signs with slogans like "Hands off our children" and "Gender is danger," RepubblicaTV reports.
The rally was staged mainly by Catholic organisations such as the Popular Christian Union (UPC). But evangelical, Sikh and Muslim groupings were also present.
While the Italian police never releases attendance figures for such demonstrations, the organisers claim to having mobilised over a million people, La Repubbica reported.
Italy is the largest EU country not to have any civil union for homosexual couples. Pressure has mounted on the government to change this after the Irish "yes" in a referendum on gay marriage last month. Prime Minister Matteo Renzi is currently trying to push through a law that would allow for civil unions for same-sex couples.
The proposed law is encountering strong resistance from right-wing politicians and Italian religious organisations, however. Italy is a largely Catholic country, where the Church still exerts a strong social influence. The condemnation of the Irish referendum's results by the Vatican initiated much of the mobilisation against the current proposal.
The protesters also object to recent attempts at including gender theory in public school education. "We are saying 'No' to any form of education that negates differences between sexes," one organiser told La Repubblica, adding that gender theory amounted to "a distortion of the institution of the family."
Leftwing politicians and LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender) rights groups in Italy have expressed regret at the demonstration and at its charges. Monica Cirinnà, senator and main proponent of the civil union law draft, said: "We, I, all of us are speaking of the freedom of love and of equal rights for all," according to La Repubblica.
"I think that the Family Day event was in fact a gathering of privileged heterosexuals affirming that they wish to keep their privileges," she added.
The issue is likely to remain hotly debated in Italy. According to a poll conducted by the newspaper La Stampa last month, 51 per cent of the population was in favour of the proposed civil unions.