italy parliament
A general view shows the Italian Senate in Rome, Feb. 2, 2016, as it began examining a civil union bill for same-sex couples. AFP/Getty Images

In a vote of 173-71, Italy's Senate approved a bill allowing same-sex civil unions, according to a Senate news release issued Thursday, making it the last country in Western Europe to move toward offering protections for gay couples. The proposed amendment has caused fierce debate in the historically Roman Catholic nation, and it still needs to pass the lower house of Parliament before it becomes law.

One notable element of the bill had been stricken from its text before the Senate vote -- a clause that would have allowed same-sex parents to legally adopt the biological children of their partners. LGBT advocates and their allies had fought hard for the stepchild-adoption clause to be included. Gay Italians considered its removal – in order to appease right-wing members of government – a major setback.

Camilla Seibezzi, a former Venice city council member and prominent lesbian activist, spoke to International Business Times last month as the bill was being prepared for debate in Parliament. Seibezzi raised a baby with her former partner and considers herself the child’s parent, though under Italian law she is not given any legal rights because the child is the biological daughter of her former partner. “If the baby is going to the hospital, I have no right to visit her. ... If I go to pick up my daughter at school, I need a paper,” she explained.

The tweet posted by the Italian Senate following the bill's passage can be loosely translated as "#CivilUnion. Vote passed of the maxi-amendment of the Government, with 173 yes and 71 no. Text changes to @Montecitorio."

The bill had languished in Parliament for years until the European Court of Human Rights said that Italy’s lack of any legal protection for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender citizens constituted discrimination against gay people. Prime Minister Matteo Renzi has led the political charge for the bill’s passage, attempting to negotiate a strong right-wing presence in Parliament with the demands of LGBT citizens and their advocates.