Italy’s LGBT population demonstrated their displeasure at the Vatican and their government on Saturday with a colourful march through the streets of Rome.

The event attracted controversy after it was denied permission by city authorities to congregate near the Basilica of St John’s in Lateran.

They claimed it would disrupt a concert scheduled to take place in the Basilica.

More than 10,000 people took to the streets for the Pride parade, some wearing clerical robes.

The recently-elected Pope-friendly government of Silvio Berlusconi was also a target for ridicule and protest.
“Berlusconi kisses the pope’s slipper and says ‘yes’ to everything,” Franco Grillini, a gay former MP, told Reuters.

“We risk a theocracy and clerical dictatorship.”

Last month Gianni Alemanno, the first right-wing Mayor of Rome in 15 years, attacked Pride.

“I fear that the Gay Pride or anything else, an act of sexual exhibition, and I am opposed to any form of exhibition, homosexual or heterosexual,” he said.

His remarks are indicative of a hardening of rhetoric about gay rights.

Silvio Berlusconi’s appointeee as Italy’s minister for equal opportunities also attacked gay Pride events.

Mara Carfagna, a 32-year-old former Miss Italy contestant who worked as a TV ‘showgirl’ in Mr Berlusconi’s TV empire, claimed in an interview that gay people in Italy do face discrimination in marriage, but she would never support equality.

“Homosexuality is no longer a problem, at least not the way the organisers of these demonstrations would have us believe,” she told newspaper Corriere della Sera.

“Gay Pride’s only aim is official recognition for homosexual couples, on the same level with marriage. I cannot agree to that.

“Gone are the times when homosexuals were declared mentally ill. Today there is such a thing as integration into society.”

Conservative media tycoon Silvio Berlusconi won the Italian general election in March and began his third term as Prime Minister after beating socialist Walter Veltroni.

Former Prime Minister Romano Prodi’s commitment to increased gay rights caused tension in the previous administration, which ranged from Communists to Roman Catholic parties.

It lost the support of parliament in January after the nine-party coalition government he was leading fell apart.

Proposals from ministers to bring forward a draft bill that would grant any unwed couple, gay or straight, the right to register themselves as a family stalled.

The proposed new law would also have granted 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.

Church-state relations remain frosty following Pope Benedict XVI’s repeated attacks on the proposed legislation to recognise gay couples.

With Mr Berlusconi and his allies back in office the modest gay rights agenda has been abandoned completely.

He has already been one of Italy’s longest-serving post-war Prime Ministers, from 2001 to 2006 and also briefly from April 1994 to January 1995.

Italy remains divided over the extent that gay and unmarried couples should benefit from the legal rights that married heterosexual couples enjoy.

Last year’s proposed legislation to allow unmarried couples of any sexual orientation to formally register with their local authority and receive legal rights in areas such as property, inheritance and employment was attacked by Mr Berlusconi.

“It creates exactly what we didn’t want, a sort of ‘second division’ marriage which devalues the meaning of family,” he said.