ROME — Tens of thousands of traditional families rallied Saturday to tell Italy that they alone should be counted as families, pressuring Parliament to reject legislation that would grant new rights to same-sex and other unmarried couples.
The "Family Day" rally, drawing hundreds of thousands of demonstrators in an unexpectedly strong outpouring, was organized by lay Roman Catholic groups and family associations. Though the demonstration was endorsed by Italian bishops, neither the Vatican nor the Italian bishops' conference was formally behind it.
"With this demonstration, we wanted to give a signal. It must not be a sporadic event, but it must contribute to dialogue and help [people] understand family must be protected," said Emanuele Cirillo, a 27-year-old Neapolitan who had traveled to Rome for the demonstration.
People from across Italy began pouring into the massive St. John Lateran piazza in the morning. The demonstrators were entertained by singers, speakers and a brief video featuring the late Pope John Paul II speaking in 1988 about the need to protect the traditional family.
Clowns and stilt-walkers mingled with the crowd to entertain the children.
By the end of the day, organizers said as many as 1.5 million people had shown up, though police did not give a final estimate. Earlier, police had put the growing number of participants at 250,000.
The Cabinet of Prime Minister Romano Prodi passed the legislation at the center of the debate in February, and the bill now requires parliamentary approval.