Italy's Senate on Thursday overwhelmingly approved a bill that recognizes gay and lesbian couples with civil unions.

Italy is the only Western European country that offers gay couples no recognition.

Prime Minister Matteo Renzi praised the 173-71 vote in the Senate, calling it “historic.”

But LGBT advocates denounced the legislation as a betrayal. An an effort to ensure passage, Renzi's Democratic Party stripped out a provision from the bill that sought to allow gay couples to jointly adopt their biological children.

The bill now heads to the lower chamber, where it is expected to pass.

Pope Francis, the spiritual leader of the world's 1.2 billion Roman Catholics, quietly came out against the legislation last month.

“There can be no confusion between the family God wants and any other type of union,” Francis told members of the Vatican court that rules on marriage annulments. “The family, founded on indissoluble matrimony that unites and allows procreation, is part of God's dream and that of his church for the salvation of humanity.”