Italy’s left-wing Foreign Minister said yesterday he is against gay marriage.

Massimo D’Alema, a former Prime Minister who currently holds the highest post at the Italian Foreign office, was addressing high-school students in Rome, when he was asked his view on gay marriage.

Mr D’Alema, who is not a Catholic, said that he was against marriage between gay people, because “only a marriage between a man and a woman represents the basis of the family according to the Italian Constitution, and is also a sacrament according to the Church.”

He added that gay marriage would offend the religious feelings of many people. “Same-sex people can live together without necessarily simulating a marriage. The government, however, should recognise their civil and social rights. I would be happy enough making a law in that direction.”

The Foreign Minister’s words were praised by some of his political opponents.

The Christian Democrat leader, Pier Ferdinando Casini, said:

“D’Alema shows a sense of respect both of the Constitution and of the religious ideas of many Italian people. His words are therefore an act of courage, especially because his coalition is home to some radical leftist ideas.”

D’Alema’s left-wing coalition was expected to legislate earlier this year to establish a form of legal recognition, called DiCo, which would have given limited rights to “de facto” couples, gay or straight, whether or not their relationship is sexual.

They would be entitled to some basic inheritance rights, economic benefits and the possibility to visit one’s partner in a hospital.

The government’s proposal, which was an election manifesto commitment, was never discussed in Parliament because the centre-left’s narrow majority meant the law would not pass.

Some government MPs, including the so called “Teodem group,” which strictly follows the Vatican position on the matter, clearly stated that they were against any form of recognition of gay couples.

Teodem senator Paola Binetti, referring to the proposal of instituting a local registry in Rome for “de facto” couples, said that it wasn’t fit for the Italian capital.

“Rome is the capital of Italy but also of the Vatican state,” she said.

Earlier this year Ms Binetti claimed that homosexuality was a form of “sexual deviance”.

A new proposal to recognise gay couples is expected to be debated by the Italian Parliament early next year