- By Davide Giglione
- In Milan
In 2018, Maria Silvia Fiengo and Francesca Pardi were among the first same-sex couples in Italy to be registered as parents.
Milan mayor Giuseppe Sala took a progressive stance, allowing 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 – to finally be recognized as a household after years of legal challenges and discrimination was “truly incredible”.
This week, however, what was then seen as a major victory for equality and acceptance by the LGBT community was reversed.
Italy’s right-wing government has ordered Milan’s city council to stop registering children of same-sex parents, reigniting a debate over Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni’s conservative agenda.
Families, activists and political opponents will protest the ban in Milan on Saturday.
Ms Meloni, who leads the far-right Brothers of Italy party, made anti-LGBT rhetoric a cornerstone of her election campaign and pledged to protect traditional values.
“We have always been a family, but now that we have been officially recognized as such by our own mayor, we felt welcome,” says Maria Silvia Fiengo. “Now that we look at what the government is doing and knowing that other families will not have the same opportunity, we feel discouraged.”
Italy legalized same-sex civil unions in 2016 under a centre-left government.
However, due to fierce opposition from Catholic and conservative groups, the law did not stop granting adoption rights to same-sex couples. Opponents said it would encourage surrogate pregnancies, which are still illegal in Italy.
That created a regulatory vacuum around several aspects of LGBT family life, including adoption. Solutions aimed at bypassing bureaucratic hurdles were reached on a case-by-case basis as cases moved to court.
Some local administrators, including the center-left mayor of Milan, decided that children of same-sex couples would be registered independently.
Mr Sala has now announced that he has been forced to stop the practice after receiving a letter from the Ministry of the Interior. It cited a ruling by Italy’s highest court requiring court approval for 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 in his daily podcast Buongiorno Milano, adding that he left with no other choice.
Children denied the right to have both parents recognized on their birth certificates are left in legal limbo.
Their families face a series of challenges. In the most extreme scenario, if the legally recognized parent were to die, the children could fall under the state and face the prospect of orphanage.
In the Italian LGBT community, this has led to a growing sense of frustration and fear, while Meloni’s government’s hostile approach to LGBT rights has exacerbated the issue.
“Children ultimately have limited access to important services and benefits, such as healthcare, inheritance and child support,” said Angelo Schillaci, a law professor at Sapienza University in Rome.
“Currently, only one parent is recognized by law, the other is a ghost. In real life, parents and children play together, cook together, play sports and go on vacation together. But on paper they are separated, the state doesn’t see them. It’s a paradoxical situation.”
The prime minister, who was elected last September, was an outspoken supporter of traditional family and Christian values and campaigned against what she calls “gender ideology” and the “LGBT lobby”. Months before taking power, she proposed a law that would make surrogacy by an Italian citizen a universal crime, and it’s still on her party’s agenda.
“There are already boys and girls with two mothers and two fathers in Italy, Prime Minister Meloni must 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 their six-year-old daughter. “I don’t understand this government’s obsession with attacking children, it’s going nowhere.”
The Italian Senate this week also rejected a proposal for a standardized European declaration of parentage that would be recognized in all 27 EU member states.
For children it would mean proof of parentage and for parents it would be a guaranteed right to be recognized across the EU, protecting rights such as inheritance and citizenship.
But for Italy’s far-right infrastructure minister, Matteo Salvini, it was a step too far. “A person can be heterosexual, homosexual or bisexual: love is free, beautiful and sacred for everyone,” he tweeted.
Riccardo Magi, an opposition MP in favor of the Europe-wide certificate, lamented: “The world is moving in one direction, the [Italian] government goes the other.”
The debate is closely followed from the northeastern city of Udine by Stefano Zucchini and his husband Alberto.
They have two six-year-old twins, who were born in California through surrogacy, and hope to one day be legally recognized as a family. In the US, they are both recognized as parents. But in Italy, Stefano is listed as a single father, and that legal status makes life complicated.
“Even things that are normal for most people, like taking the kids to kindergarten 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. It certainly exists.”