Padua city council has outraged the Vatican by allowing gay and lesbian couples to register their ‘family.’ The decision, taken late on Monday, also applies to unmarried heterosexual couples.

In Italy, a “certification of family” is required for various minor legal procedures, such as officially taking time off work to care for a sick relative or being placed on waiting lists for council houses.

Padua, the setting for Shakespeare’s Taming of the Shrew, is the first city to extend certification to gay men and lesbians.

The reaction from Rome was quick and brutal. An editorial in L’Osservatore Romano, an official Vatican newspaper, branded the city councillors responsible as hypocrites.

The left-wing council have granted family certificates at a time when the debate over gay marriage in Italy is raging.

The new leftist coalition government of Romano Prodi has promised some form of recognition for gay rights, but there is still no sign of how much protection. What is clear is that the Roman Catholic Church will fight any attempt by the state to grant more rights to gay people.

A gay MP, Franco Gillini, spoke out in favour of the decision by Padua council:

“The Vatican has to get it into its head that what constitutes a family is decided by the members of that family and not by the Vatican,” he told Reuters.

Others on the right were horrified by the actions of Padua council. The city of 1.6m is the birthplace of St Anthony was traditionally thought of as a Catholic stronghold.

“This is unconstitutional because it equates the (traditional) family founded on marriage with a phantom family based on affective ties,” Riccardo Pedrizzi, head of the right-wing National Alliance party said, according to Reuters.

As Italy is ruled by a coalition between centre and left political parties, is it likely that the French model will be adopted, in which legal civil unions for gay and unmarried straight couples exist in parallel with marriage.