Rome, July 22 - High-ranking members of Silvio Berlusconi's centre-right People of Freedom Party (PdL) on Monday defended their call on the Italian executive for a moratorium on ''ethical issues'' to avoid shaking the right-left majority coalition on controversial themes, like gay rights, and to focus on pressing economic issues. ''Ethical issues and homophobia? I think today the priorities are economic issues,'' the PdL's House whip Renato Brunetta told Sky television. ''My colleagues and I, who have requested the moratorium, wonder, well, in this climate in which economic problems prevail, is it useful to fight over so-called ethical themes?''. On Sunday, a number of exponents of the PdL - including Transport Minister Maurizio Lupi, ex-labour minister Maurizio Sacconi, former equal opportunities minister Mara Carfagna, and ex-education minister Mariastella Gelmini - proposed suspending ''ethical measures,'' including a bill against homophobia. ''I continue to repeat - I am in favour of a law that recognizes the rights of homosexual couples, just as I consider it essential to give our country effective regulation that deals strict and certain blows against homophobic crimes,'' Carafagna posted Monday on her blog, www.maracarafagna.net. Carafagna went on to explain her role in drumming up consensus within her party in support of the bill, and said it had a good chance of widespread support in parliament in the near future. ''I am worried, instead, whether the government will hold. In fact, I wouldn't want certain themes - for example, those of ethical nature - to serve a minority as a crowbar to pry apart the majority that maintains the executive, weakening it to the point where it could cause a crisis that, with his usual foresight, the (President has said) could have disastrous effects on our country,'' Carfagna concluded. The Italian government has taken up a number of social issues since the new executive under Premier Enrico Letta took office in late April, passing a law to combat violence against women and a measure that ends discrimination between children born in and out of wedlock. Debate has also raged over Congo-born Integration Minister Cecile Kyenge's efforts to push more liberal immigration and citizenship rules, which has met a hail of criticism from the PdL's anti-immigration ally, the Northern League party. Kyenge has also spoken about new hate speech laws to combat racism and xenophobia. The minister herself has been the target of a number of racist comments and posts by Northern League politicians, some of whom have been thrown out of their own party or prosecuted for the extremity of their gestures. But within the PdL, ex-culture minister Sandro Bondi and President of the Chamber Culture Commission Giancarlo Galan disagree with their colleagues' call for a moratorium on ethical legal measures. ''But what moratorium? We should accelerate on ethical themes. The move of my colleagues is dictated by desperation. They know that in parliament they don't have the numbers, and when you are sure to lose, you ask for a stop,'' Galan told the newspaper La Repubblica. Galan told the newspaper that PdL secretary and deputy premier Angelino Alfano supports the moratorium, whereas Berlusconi himself does not. The three-time premier ''is with me'', Galan told the paper. Galan said of his colleague Mara Carfagna: ''I don't know what's got into her. Probably weird logic that has nothing to do with rights. I know she was resentful because I was the first to present a proposal on homosexual couples''. If the PdL stops puts the brakes on ethical themes, Galan said, it will commit ''an extremely serious error'' making a gift ''to the left'' of a political battle horse that isn't historically theirs. In the past, ''Italy was divided into two churches - the communist and the Catholic. Both of them were closed on these themes,'' Galan said. photo: Mara Carfagna.