Italy’s Senate passed a historic bill on Thursday granting legal recognition to civil unions for same-sex couples. But gay and lesbian groups denounced the watered-down legislation as a betrayal.

Matteo Renzi’s Democratic Party sacrificed a provision to allow gay adoption in order to ensure passage. The bill overcame determined opposition from the Roman Catholic church and last-minute political manoeuvring by opponents of the Italian prime minister almost derailed the legislation.

ANSA, an Italian news agency, reported the legislation was passed by the senate – in an overwhelming 173-71 vote – that will allow same-sex couples to enter civil unions that provide legal rights similar to those of married couples.

“We are outraged, angry, disappointed,” said Marilena Grassadonia, president of Rainbow Families, the Italian association of homosexual parents. “We can’t believe that in 2016, in a country like Italy which is so proud to be part of this Europe, that it’s possible to make a law on civil unions without considering children who should be protected as Italian citizens and discriminated minors,” she told The Associated Press.

Defenders of the bill insisted that the legislation preserved the right of Italian judges to grant adoptions to gay partners on a case-by-case basis, as has been the practice to date.

Mr Renzi said that the deal was a “historic event”. His reforms minister, Maria Elena Boschi, said the accord would “finally mean that the life together of two people of the same sex would not be less valued than that of a man and a woman”, and that there would no longer be “second-class citizens” in Italy.

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