Up to 50,000 Italian gay activists will campaign this weekend in Rome in support for same-sex unions.

The campaigners will gather in the Piazza Farnese to voice their enthusiasm for the Dico Bill, which will grant gay and lesbian couples the right to make their relationships official, as well as to mutual assistance and inheritance.

The bill is strongly opposed by the Catholic and right wing parties, and due to Prime Minister Prodi’s slim majority in the Senate, its passing is uncertain.

Several left-wing politicians plan to attend the demonstration. Franco Grillini of the Left Democrats told Deutsche Press Agentur:

“The objective of Saturday’s meeting is to convince parliament to improve the bill and end all kinds of discrimination towards homosexuals.”

Green party MP Angelo Bonelli, whose party is part of the governing coalition, said:

“Rights for cohabiting couples are standard in the rest of Europe… A modern, European-style law is needed which gives rights to those who currently do not have them” he told RawStory.com.

Celebrity support for the bill is also strong. Famous figures such as Nobel literature prize winner Dario Fo, and his actress wife and senator Franca Rame plan to attend the demonstration.

An alternative “pro-family” rally will also take place at the weekend, backed by Catholic activists and attended by right-wing politicians such as Justice Minister Clemente

Mastella.

The Bill and homosexuality itself have been openly criticised in parliament.

Paola Binetti, a senator and member of the controversial Catholic group Opus Dei, branded homosexuality a “deviation of the personality” during a television talk show last weekend.

She said: “In my opinion, it represents ‘different’ behaviour – very different from the norm as written in our morphological, genetic, endocrinological and character code.”

But the views of the general public are more positive. A recent survey in Focus magazine revealed that 64% of Italians regard homosexuality as a “natural condition”.

76% of respondents were in favour of gays being open about their sexuality and 95% were open to friendships with gays and lesbians.

Despite this, Italy is one of the few western European countries that has yet to grant any rights to gay couples.