Italy’s Supreme Court of Cassation ruled on Friday that there is no reason why gay people cannot have custody of children.

The Cassation, whose decisions set precedents, gave the ruling in rejecting a challenge from a man against another court’s decision to give exclusive custody of a child to his former partner.

ANSA reports his challenge was based on the fact that his ex-partner had gone to live with a female social worker who helped the woman get off drugs at a rehabilitation centre.

The man, who lives in Brescia, northern Italy, and is of Muslim faith, argued that it was damaging for the child to grow up in a gay environment.

The Cassation said the challenge was not based on “scientific certainty or data from experience”, but on “the mere prejudice that growing up with gay parents damages the balanced development of the child, taking for granted what has yet to be proven: that such family environments are damaging”.

Gay rights groups hailed the ruling as a major breakthrough and some said it had implications for the issue of whether gay couples should be allowed to adopt children.

Gay couples in Italy are currently banned from adopting or entering into same-sex marriages.

Last week, Italian Prime Minister Mario Monti declared it was up to parliament to decide on equal marriage and other LGBT issues.

Former prime minister Silvio Berlusconi, a candidate in next month’s election, recently said his opponents had accused him of everything “except being gay and stealing money from Italians.”

Prior to that, in March 2011, Berlusconi declared that gay couples in Italy would never be allowed to marry or have adoption rights.