The mayor of Milan, Giuseppe Salaended his podcast on March 14 by wishing his listeners a good day, but the news he had just delivered was a blow to thousands of families throughout Italy.
For about four years, Sala had been recording the names of both parents of same-sex couples on their children’s birth certificates to get around the national legislation denying them automatic parental recognition. The right-wing government, he said, was forcing him to stop. His only option now is to try to secure that status in court.
It was the first rollback of civil liberties since Giorgia Meloni, leader of the far-right Brothers of Italy party, became prime minister late last year. Hours later, the European Union affairs committee in the Italian Senate voted against a European proposal to introduce a paternity certificate that would be recognized in the 27 member countries of the bloc.
The moves were seen by many as confirmation that Meloni is pushing an ultra-conservative social agenda, and could take aim at reproductive freedoms and gender identity next.
The protests took place over the weekend in Milan, attended by Elly Schlein, reinvigorated since she became leader of the Democratic Party earlier this month.
“We are with families discriminated against, we want a new law to be discussed in Parliament to recognize the rights of same-sex families”said Schlein, surrounded by rainbow and pink flags. “We will be by your side in the squares and in parliament. We want to convince this government that discrimination does not advance society.”
Italy legalized same-sex civil unions in 2016, but amid opposition from Catholics and conservatives, same-sex couples still cannot marry.
Since legal responsibility for a non-biological child can only be secured through marriage or adoption, same-sex couples who conceive via IVF or surrogacy abroad (they are illegal in Italy) find themselves in a legal vacuum when they return home. They cannot perform simple acts such as authorizing medical treatment or international travel. Citizenship and inheritance are not guaranteed.
Progressive mayors began registering the names of both parents as a way around the problem, citing their legal right to issue birth certificates.
When on April 23, 2018, the mayor of Turin, Chiara Appendino, of the Five Star Movement, announced the first registration of a child with two mothers, the mayor of Naples, Luigi De Magistris, released: Naples had already done something similar in 2015 with two Italian mothers living in Barcelona who had problems entering Italy. Perhaps, De Magistris said, that was the first certificate in northern Italy.
One by one, these mayors resigned from what had become a political battle after local courts began challenging the documents. Italy’s top court has ruled against the practice several times and suggested that a non-biological father should try to establish his rights through adoption.
The Interior Ministry recently sent Sala, 64, the last standout, a letter telling him to stop.
“Parents of the same sex want to impose on children what does not exist: two fathers or two mothers”said Lucio Malan, a member of the Brothers of Italy and president of the Senate, while defending the government’s position. Surrogacy has created a “children’s market,” Family Minister Eugenia Roccella said on Sunday, adding that while the government has no intention of limiting children’s rights, “the model we believe in has a mother and a father”.
Italy was already one of the least welcoming countries to LGBTQ people in Western Europe, with recent governments failing to introduce laws to criminalize violence and hate speech directed at a person’s sexual orientation or identity and the Vatican repeating that it is not. can bless same-sex unions. Meanwhile, most of their peers have introduced policies to improve the lives of their LGBTQ communities, with Spain revising its constitution to accept same-sex marriages. All except Italy have or plan to have some form of recognition for children of same-sex couples.
In June 2018, Sala hosted a ceremony marking his first registration of birth certificates naming same-sex fathers, for four families with two mothers, to applause.. She signed a leather-bound book where acts are filed and attendees ate pink sugar-coated cake from blue plastic plates. The feeling was that the tide was turning forever. But the pressure was already building.
Just days earlier, Lorenzo Fontanta, a minister from the far-right Liga party, said that so-called rainbow families do not exist. Brothers of Italy has also long attacked surrogacy, and Meloni has spoken out against what she calls “gender ideology” and the “LGBT lobby.” According to one new proposed law, Italians who travel abroad to secure substitutes risk two years in jail or a fine of 1 million euros.
Going to court through an adoption process is a burden on Italy’s notoriously overwhelmed court system that comes at a financial and emotional cost to a family. And it’s only an option if both parents sign up, a problem for families facing divorce or conflict.
“In recent years, a special type of adoption has become the go-to legal process for same-sex families to acquire parental rights. If the result is mostly expected, then why are we talking about it, you might ask. Well, not so fast. The process is designed for children living in the midst of strife and conflict, and for their own protection it is specifically designed to be lengthy and very intrusive. It can last for months or even years, during which time couples face psychological evaluations and visits from social workers.
Even if the debate is the focus of media attention in Italy, there is little chance of immediate change: any progress would have to come via a new law recognizing same-sex families, which would have to be approved by the Parliament or by the Meloni government, and neither scenario is likely.
“This is a step back”Sala said on his daily Bongiorno Milano podcast when announcing the news, “a big one, both from a social and a political point of view.”
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