Italy's highest court has ruled against two gay couples' bid to marry, the AP reported.

The country's Constitutional Court heard an appeal on March 23 from two couples who were denied the right to marry in the northern cities of Venice and Trento.

The plaintiffs had asked the court to have their city governments recognize gay unions.

The AP is reporting that the court rebuffed the challenge, saying that it is up to lawmakers, not judges, to decide the issue.

Italian lawmakers have debated civil unions and marriage for gay and lesbian couples since 1986, but no proposal has ever reached the floor of Parliament for a vote.

The Vatican, which holds powerful influence in Italian politics, opposes recognition of gay unions. Pope Benedict called for the ouster of Socialists in Spain after they legalized gay marriage in 2005.

Last week, the Roman Catholic stronghold of Portugal inched closer to legalizing gay marriage after the nation's Constitutional Court gave its OK to a gay marriage bill approved by lawmakers. Pope Benedict is widely expected to criticize the bill next month as he tours the country.