Italy leaves children of same-sex parents in limbo
- By Davide Ghiglione
- In Milan
In 2018, Maria Silvia Fiengo and Francesca Pardi were among the first Italian same-sex couples to be registered as parents.
The mayor of Milan, Giuseppe Sala, took a progressive stance and allowed children of same-sex parents to be recognized in the absence of clear national legislation.
For Maria Silvia and Francesca – and their four children, Margherita, twins Giorgio and Raffaele, and Antonio – it was “truly incredible” to finally be recognized as a household after years of legal challenges and discrimination.
This week, however, what was seen at the time as a major victory for equality and acceptance by the LGBT community was reversed.
Italy’s right-wing government ordered Milan City Council to stop registering children born to same-sex parents, sparking debate over Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni’s conservative agenda.
Families, activists and political opponents are scheduled to protest the ban in Milan on Saturday.
Ms Meloni, who heads the far-right Brothers of Italy party, made anti-LGBT rhetoric a cornerstone of her campaign and pledged to protect traditional values.
“We’ve always been a family, but being officially recognized by our own mayor made us feel welcome,” said Maria Silvia Fiengo. “When we look at what the government is doing today and know that other families will not have the same opportunity, we are discouraged.”
Italy legalized same-sex civil partnerships under a centre-left government in 2016.
However, fierce opposition from Catholic and conservative groups meant that the law also denied same-sex couples the right to adopt. Opponents said it would encourage surrogacy, which is still illegal in Italy.
This left a regulatory vacuum around several aspects of LGBT family life, including adoption. Solutions to circumvent bureaucratic hurdles were found on a case-by-case basis in court.
Some local administration officials, including the centre-left mayor of Milan, ruled that children of same-sex couples would be registered independently.
Mr Sala has now announced he has been forced to give up the practice after being sent a letter from the Home Office. It relied on a ruling by Italy’s highest court, which requires judicial approval for the legal recognition of parental status.
“It’s a clear step backwards, politically and socially, and I put myself in the shoes of those parents who thought they could count on this opportunity in Milan,” the mayor said on his daily Buongiorno Milano podcast, adding that he only there was no other choice left.
Children who are denied the right to have both parents recognized on their birth certificate are in legal limbo.
Their families face a range of challenges, from adoption to parenting to inheritance. In the extreme, if the legal parent dies, the children could become wards of the state and face being orphaned.
This has caused growing frustration and concern in Italy’s LGBT community, while the Meloni government’s hostile approach to LGBT rights has further exacerbated the problem.
“Children end up with limited access to essential services and benefits like healthcare, inheritance and child support,” said Angelo Schillaci, a law professor at Rome’s Sapienza University.
“Currently, only one parent is legally recognized, the other is a ghost. In real life, parents and children play together, cook together, play sports and go on vacations together. But on paper they are separate, the state does not see them. It’s a paradoxical situation.”
The prime minister, elected last September, has been a vocal supporter of traditional family and Christian values and has campaigned against what she calls “gender ideology” and the “LGBT lobby”. Months before she came to power, she proposed legislation that would make surrogacy by an Italian citizen a universal crime, and it’s still on her party’s agenda.
“In Italy there are already boys and girls with two mothers and two fathers, Prime Minister Meloni should get over that,” said Alessia Crocini, president of the Rainbow Families association. “We must guarantee our children the same rights as their peers.”
“We feel attacked,” said Angela Diomede, who will take part in the rally in Milan with her wife and six-year-old girl. “I don’t understand this government’s obsession with targeting children, it gets nowhere.”
Italy’s Senate this week also rejected a proposal for a uniform European parentage certificate to be recognized in all 27 EU member states.
For children this would be proof of parenthood and for parents a guaranteed right to recognition across the EU protecting rights such as inheritance and citizenship.
But it was a step too far for Italy’s far-right infrastructure minister, Matteo Salvini. “A person can be straight, gay or bisexual: love is free, beautiful and sacred for all,” he tweeted.
Riccardo Magi, an opposition MP who is in favor of the Europe-wide certificate, complained: “The world is going a way that [Italian] government goes the other way.”
The debate is being closely followed by Stefano Zucchini and his husband Alberto, from the north-eastern city of Udine.
They have two six-year-old twins born in California through surrogacy and hope to one day be legally recognized as family. In the US, they are both recognized as parents. But in Italy, Stefano is listed as a single father, and that legal status complicates life.
“Even things that are normal for most people, like driving the kids to daycare or to a doctor’s appointment, can become a challenge,” he told the BBC.
“They don’t see us, but our love is as strong as ever.