Italy's highest civil court on Thursday ruled that gay men and lesbians have a right to “a family life,” but stopped short of overturning a gay marriage ban, the AFP reported.

The ruling, however, was welcomed by gay rights groups as a sign of progress.

The court said gay people have the right to “a family life” and, “in specific situations,” to “be treated the same as couples married by law.”

The court added that such couples cannot legally marry and “do not have the right to register a marriage celebrated abroad.”

The plaintiffs in the case appealed to the court after the local town coucil of Latina, near Rome, refused to recognize their 2002 marriage from The Hague.

Gay rights groups hailed the ruling as “historic.”

“It is clear that the law needs to urgently adapt to changes in society,” the gay rights group Mario Mieli said in a statement. “We cannot wait any longer.”

Paul Patane, president of Arcigay, said the ruling was “another important step on the road to more effective protections for gay couples.”