The Italian government stands divided over a bill which would give inheritance and healthcare rights to gay couples.

The centre-left coalition government covers a variety of views on the subject, many of which are swayed by the country’s staunch Catholicism.

One opponent of the bill is senator Paola Binetti, a member of the conservative Catholic group Opus Dei.

She said on a television talk show that “homosexuality is a deviance of the personality.”

On the same show openly gay senator Franco Grillini disputed her comments, and accused her of being a racist.

“This is going to be very messy,” Professor James Walston, head of the international relations department of the American University of Rome, told Reuters.

“It’s a fight between the Church and secular forces, the divide that has always bedevilled Italy.”

The bill goes before Parliament today, and will also guarantee rights to unmarried heterosexual couples.

There are worries that if the bill does get through parliament it will emerge unrecognisably watered down.

Monsignor Elio Sgrecia, a top Vatican official for ethical issues, instructed Catholics this week that they had a duty to kill the bill because “it goes against natural law”.

However, Prodi, who is a practicing Catholic, has categorically said that the Church has nothing to fear, and that the law will not give these relationships equal rights to marriages.

Centrist Justice Minister Clemente Mastella has vowed to fight the bill in parliament due to worries that the bill is a “Trojan horse” which could eventually lead to gay marriage.

Walston told Reuters that the bill would not lead to a government crisis unless hard leftists force the issue.

“(Prodi) has got it out of the way for now by putting it on someone else’s cooker,” said Walston.

“The problem is that it was his cabinet who approved it and sent it to parliament.”

Prodi resigned last month after his government lost a foreign policy vote in the Senate.

In order to come out of the crisis and remain prime minister, he asked leaders of his nine-party coalition to sign a new 12-point plan, which did not include this bill.

Prodi said the matter was now in parliament’s hands but promised his leftist allies that the bill “has not been dumped overboard.”