Protestors have staged marches in Europe to demand that the Italian government ignore the Vatican’s attempts to influence policy on gays and lesbians.

Around one hundred protesters marched to the Italian Embassy in London on Saturday, in solidarity with a simultaneous 30,000-strong demonstration in Rome.

Protesters in both cities were demanding that the Italian government cease appeasing the Vatican and stop giving it special legal and political privileges. They urged a secular Europe.

The rally at the Italian Embassy in London was addressed by Terry Sanderson of the National Secular Society, Bob Churchill of the British Humanist Association, Marco Tranchino of the Central London Humanist Group and human rights campaigner Peter Tatchell.

The London marchers carried placards with the slogans: “For a secular Europe. Vatican out!” and “No to Vatican. Stop Pope’s bigotry.”

“This demonstration is demanding that the Vatican stop abusing its power to oppose human rights. We also want the Italian government to cease kow-towing to the Pope’s theocratic agenda,” said Tatchell.

“We are appalled by the Pope’s repeated attacks on the rights of women and gay people and by his wilful opposition to life-saving condom provision. The Italian government too often allows itself to be bullied by the Vatican, on issues such as same-sex civil marriage and sex education in schools.

“The Vatican does not shrink from using threats and intimidation to enforce its will. In a bid to keep Catholic MPs in line with Papal policy opposing gay equality, the Vatican has threatened to excommunicate any Catholic legislator who votes for same-sex civil unions,” said Tatchell.

Officially part of the United Nations, the Vatican’s observer-state status allows it to influence UN debates on issues, such as birth control, abortion and homosexuality. No other faith has this privileged status, access and influence at the UN.

Last December, the Vatican opposed a UN statement calling for the decriminalisation of homosexuality worldwide and for gay people to be protected against discrimination and violence.

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