Italy’s Prime Minister has announced that the Senate will debate a same-sex civil unions bill in September.

Prime Minister Matteo Renzi, of the centre-left Democratic Party, announced the plans yesterday to newspaper La Repubblica.

The move would allow same-sex couples to register their union, entitling them to equal benefits as opposite-sex couples, including for tax, inheritance, and welfare

.It will also allow for the recognition of overseas marriages and unions.

According to the newspaper, the proposal is intended to mirror Britain’s civil partnership law, but will not allow for same-sex adoption.

Renzi, who supported gay rights while fighting last year’s elections – said of the proposals: “Rights will be the same as those for married heterosexual couples.”

“We must now achieve this commitment, there will be no second thoughts.”

Openly gay politician Ivan Scalfattorotto – who is the vice-president of the Democratic party, hailed the move, conceding: “In a perfect world I would like to have gay marriage in Italy, but I would rather have civil union immediately.”

New Centre Right party leader Angelino Alfano said earlier this year that his party would leave the Grand Coalition government if “gay marriage” was introduced, but he is yet to react to the announcement.

Italy is home to a large Catholic population, and lags behind other European countries on LGBT rights, with gay couples having no legal recognition, rights to adopt, and limited protection from discrimination.

The Vatican announced in April that Catholic bishops will hold an ‘extraordinary meeting’ to discuss reaction to same-sex unions globally later this year, though a change in policy is extremely unlikely.