Authorities in northern Italy on Monday issued a residence permit to a Uruguayan man whose application was initially rejected because his marriage to an Italian man – which took place in Spain – is not recognised by the country’s laws.

A court in Reggio Emilia ruled last month that authorities had violated European Union rules on freedom of movement by denying the permit to the man.

The Uruguayan man had married his Italian partner in Spain where gay marriages are legal. However, the election last year of Mariano Rajoy as Spain’s new prime minister is worrying for many in the country’s LGBT community, as there are fears he may want to destroy marriage equality.

The couple have been identified in news reports only by their first names, Rafael and Flavio. On the basis of the marriage, Rafael, the Uruguayan man, had applied for a residence permit in Italy, for which non-residents can qualify through marriage to an Italian.

The permit was welcomed by equal rights group Associazione Radicale Certi Diritti, who supported the couple in their legal battle. A spokesperson for the group said “This represents the first document in Italian history which effectively recognises the family status of homosexual couples.”

Paola Concia, a lesbian member of parliament for Italy’s main left-wing Democratic Party, said the decision was “another important signal to Italian politicians.”

She added: “The legislative vacuum [that exists in Italy where there are no laws governing gay marriage] is unacceptable for a country that wishes to be part of Europe.”

Former prime minster Silvio Berlusconi’s conservative People of Freedom party – the largest political party in Italy’s parliament – opposes granting legal status to same-sex married couples as they say it would undermine traditional Catholic family values.

The Democratic Party are split on the issue, with some representatives saying they are against gay marriages, yet in favor of granting gay couples some other kind of legal recognition.