ROME (AP) — The gay marriage debate arrived within walking distance of the Vatican on Saturday as Rome's mayor defied Italy's government and registered 16 gay marriages celebrated abroad.
Gay marriage is illegal in Italy. Interior Minister Angelino Alfano recently sent a notice to local prefects saying any registrations of foreign gay marriages would be voided, and Rome's prefect vowed to do so immediately.
Nevertheless, Mayor Ignazio Marino received thunderous applause upon arrival at the city hall reception room where the couples and their loved ones gathered to make the marriages official in Rome's city ledger. Marino transcribed the date and locations of their weddings, including in Spain, Portugal and the U.S.
Marino said Saturday was an important day in the fight for equal rights and that "the most important right is to say to your companion 'I love you' and to have that be recognized."
Outside, a few protesters held up signs saying "Stop Marino" and "Transcriptions don't make families." Police said they blocked about 70 right-wing protesters who didn't have a permit.
Jonathon Dominic Spada, 26, from Santa Barbara, California, and Fabrizio Maffeo, 35, a Roman computer specialist, were there to register their 2013 marriage in Boston.
"It's important — a limited recognition, but it's something," Maffeo said. "I'm proud of our mayor."
The next step, he said, was for Italy to change its law to allow gay marriage and gay adoption.
Premier Matteo Renzi has said he would propose legislation allowing gay unions, though it's not expected to include adoption.
The Italian bishops' conference said it was "unacceptable" that Marino registered the weddings the same day Catholic bishops were wrapping up a two-week summit aiming to reinforce traditional Catholic family values.
In a statement, the bishops insisted marriage was between a man and woman.
Follow Nicole Winfield at www.twitter.com/nwinfield