The Italian Prime Minister has told the Catholic Church to stay out of a debate around same-sex civil unions.

Prime Minister Matteo Renzi spoke on RAI state radio on Friday, in response to a recommendation by the Italian bishops’ conference that the Senate hold a private ballot on the civil unions bill.

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Angelo Bagnascoso, the leader of the bishops’ group had recommended that the secret ballot would allow Senators to vote by conscience, and avoid pressure from political parties.

“Parliament decides whether or not to allow secret votes … not the head of the bishops’ conference,” Renzi told the RAI.

“What is there to fear from two people who love each other? Why not give these rights to two people who love each other? The majority of the country is clearly in favor of it.”

The bill for civil unions, introduced by Premier Matteo Renzi’s Government faces fierce opposition in the Catholic country, but is expected to pass.

However supporters of measures for civil unions or same-sex marriage, say they fear amendments will be added to sabotage or water down the legislation.

Italy remains as the last Western European country which has no legal recognition for cohabiting same-sex couples.

Justice Minister Andrea Orlando has said Italy must introduce same-sex civil unions to be compliant with the Strasbourg court.

Pope Francis weighed in on the debate last month, speaking to the Vatican court, saying: “There can be no confusion between the family God wants and any other type of union.”

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The Pope repeated the sentiment yesterday in a joint statement with Patriarch Kirill of Moscow, the head of the Russian Orthodox Church who condemning same-sex marriage in a lengthy statement.

Thousands of Italians on both sides of the debate have taken to the streets to protest for and against the legislation.