Gay rights activists on Thursday began preparations for a protest sit-in at the Vatican, under flak for opposing a proposed French-sponsored United Nations declaration to decriminalise homosexuality in the world.
Arcigay, Italy's biggest gay rights group, urged leftists, intellectuals, trade unions, show business personalities and journalists to join them at the protest on Saturday in a ''show of solidarity and commitment to defend human rights''.
Sit-ins and rallies will also be held this week and next in a number of Italian cities, Arcigay said.
The Vatican appeared unfazed by the polemics, staunchly defending its stance, announced on Monday by its representative to the UN, Monsignor Celestino Migliore.
In an interview with the French news agency I.media, Migliore said that the Church was against the declaration, which France will present to the UN General Assembly in mid December on behalf of the 27-member European Union.
The Church opposes the idea because it would whip up ''new and implacable'' forms of discrimination, he said.
''For instance, nations that do not recognise same-sex marriages would be pilloried and be subjected to pressure''.
Top Vatican officials say the brouhaha has been whipped up to ''denigrate the Church''.
Vatican spokesman Father Federico Lombardi told reporters this week that the Church was not alone in its opposition to the proposal, with at least 150 UN members sharing its view.
''Fewer than 50 nations of the UN are backing it,'' said Lombardi, who stressed that the Church had nothing against homosexuals.
The former head of the Vatican's Academy for Life, Msgr Elio Sgreccia, told ANSA on Wednesday that the Church would not waiver on ''its values, whether these are in harmony with society's trends or not''.
Sgreccia stressed that the Vatican's ''no was in fact a yes for the family''.
FRATTINI ATTEMPTS TO DEFUSE POLEMICS
Foreign Minister Franco Frattini has tried to defuse the polemics, saying the Vatican's stance should be ''interpreted in the right spirit''.
The Vatican, he told the House on Wednesday, was worried about legitimising same-sex unions.
''Italy strongly supports the principle that no homosexual should be sanctioned or imprisoned. But it would be a serious mistake to draw the conclusion that this stance should lead to the international legitimization of family relations between homosexuals,'' Frattini told the House.
The legislation on same-sex unions is clearly a national issue and cannot be subject to international rules, he stressed.
The editor-in-chief of the Communist Refoundation daily Liberazione, Piero Sansonetti, has urged Italians to boycott the Vatican, guilty in his view of ''siding with scribes and pharisees''.
He said participants at the sit-in should go ''wearing a pink oufit like the star gays were forced to wear in concentration camps''.
In an article on Thursday, Liberazione urged Italians not to devote part of their taxes to the Catholic Church when they present their tax returns in 2009.
Provisions allow Italians, if they so wish, to allot eight percent of their taxes to a religious organisation.
Arcigay President Aurelio Mancuso has said the Catholic Church's decision to oppose the French proposal amounted to ''a sort of real death sentence against the millions of gays and lesbians who unfortunately live in bloodthirsty countries''.
At least 86 countries ban gays and many others approve torture and imprisonment, said Mancuso, recalling that seven Islamic-led nations foresee the death penalty.
He said these are Iran, Saudi Arabia, Yemen, the United Arab Emirates, Sudan, Nigeria and Mauritania.
France said that it was presenting the resolution - as part of a wider campaign to promote the declaration of the universal rights of man - while holding the European Union duty presidency, which expires on December 31.
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