Italian court rules gay couples can bring up children

ROME (AFP) - Italy's highest court on Friday said gay couples can bring up children as well as heterosexual couples in a landmark ruling in a predominantly Catholic country where the issue is a hot-button topic ahead of a general election in February.

"There is no scientific certainty or concrete evidence but only prejudice" behind the idea that "living in a homosexual family is damaging for the growth of a child", the court's ruling said.

The court's ruling was on a case brought by a man against his former partner who had custody of their child and is now living in a lesbian relationship.

The gay rights group Arcigay hailed a "historic verdict" and said: "Children are brought up by love and not by their parents' sexual orientation".

The issue of rights for gay couples including marriage and adoption are frequently debated in Italy, especially in an election season in which each party is trying to attract as many votes as possible without angering the Catholic Church.

The Vatican considers the only real family as one based on marriage between a man and a woman.

Adoptions by gay couples are illegal in Italy.