Tens of thousands of people are demonstrating in nearly 100 cities across Italy to urge the government to grant gay and lesbian couples civil unions and recognize their families.

Mirco Pierro, 39, rallied Saturday in Rome with his partner and twin infants, saying he wanted "to defend the rights of our children, not just our rights." Pierro and his partner were married in Los Angeles but their union is not recognized in Italy and only he has parental rights.

The government has pledged to pass legislation on civil unions for homosexual couples, along with measures allowing both parents, not just the biological parent, custody in a homosexual union.

Italy lags behind many of its European neighbors in conferring such rights due to strong opposition in this predominantly Roman Catholic nation.