The delicate balance of power in the Italian government could be upset by a new law that will grant gay and lesbian couples a form of civil partnership.

The nature of the Italian political system means that since 1945 the country has mostly been ruled by fragile coalitions, and the group of parties that finally removed Silvio Berlusconi from office last April are no different.

Prime Minister Romano Prodi’s coalition has to hold together nine different parties in government, and now proposals for new rights for gays and lesbians in Italy are causing problems.

Ministers have brought forward a draft bill that would grant any unwed couple, gay or straight, the right to register themselves as a family.

As reported on PinkNews.co.uk, last month the northern Italian city of Padua outraged the Vatican by allowing gay and lesbian couples to be the first in the country register their ‘family.’

The proposals to extend that right across the country led the coalition’s Justice Minister to say he would rather the government fell than pass this law.

Clemente Mastella said:

“Homosexuals can acquire more rights but I’ll never accept the idea that they can be considered a family,” according toYahoo News.

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.

The proposed new law would also grant some pension and health insurance rights, but falls far short of the civil partnerships gay and lesbians in the UK enjoy.

Italy is perhaps the only country in Europe where the Roman Catholic church retains such strong influence over politics.

Last week the secretary general of the Italian bishops’ conference, said the government was trying to “unhinge” the traditional family.

Leftist members of the government, however, are determined to advance gay rights – if the coalition can be held together.

The draft law will now be debated by the Cabinet before being put to the country’s bicameral parliament.