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Business News/ News / World/  Italy Strips Some Gay Couples of Parental Recognition
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Italy Strips Some Gay Couples of Parental Recognition


Georgia Meloni’s government moves to restrict same-sex parenthood as its champions traditional values

Michela Leidi, wearing green, and her wife Viola with their daughter in Bergamo, Italy/Francesca Volpi for The Wall Street JournalPremium
Michela Leidi, wearing green, and her wife Viola with their daughter in Bergamo, Italy/Francesca Volpi for The Wall Street Journal

Michela Leidi became a mother last summer when her wife gave birth to their daughter Giulia. The couple was swept up in the joyful, sleepless whirlwind of early parenthood.

This month, a local court ordered Ms. Leidi’s name to be erased from Giulia’s birth certificate on the grounds that her inclusion was “contrary to public order." The ruling, which left the baby with only one legal parent, her biological mother, was a headline-generating surprise in Italy but is part of a growing trend of moves against same-sex parents by Italy’s courts and government.

“I cried all my tears," said Ms. Leidi, a 38-year-old education worker from Bergamo in northern Italy. “I never missed a scan, from the moment she was conceived to the moment she was born. Yet it’s as though I don’t exist," she said. She is now trying to adopt Giulia, a tortuous path in Italy.

Italian law doesn’t specify whether same-sex couples should both be recognized as parents. Parental recognition on birth certificates has largely been left up to mayors. Although decisions could vary locally, many same-sex parents have gained recognition since 2016, when Italy legalized gay civil unions.

Now, the right-wing government of Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni is telling mayors they can no longer choose. In fact, it is pushing for non-biological gay parents to be retroactively struck from birth documents. Hundreds of families could be affected, gay-rights groups say.

The crackdown on birth certificates is part of a broader campaign against same-sex parenthood led by Ms. Meloni, who has frequently spoken out against what she calls “the LGBTQ lobby" and in defense of Christian family values.

Ms. Meloni comes from a far-right background but has worked hard to burnish her credentials as a mainstream conservative, pursuing establishment-friendly policies on economics and foreign affairs.

At the same time, her government has sought to keep its right-wing voters happy with hard-line stances on immigration, gay rights and national identity. Recently, her party colleagues have railed against the creeping use of English words in Italian, proposing fines for “Anglomania."

Ms. Meloni’s Brothers of Italy party has long been hostile to same-sex parenthood. “All children have a mother and a father. Saying they have two mothers or two fathers is not telling the truth," Eugenia Roccella, Italy’s minister of family affairs, said recently.

The use of surrogate mothers is a crime “more serious than pedophilia," said prominent party lawmaker Federico Mollicone, sparking a firestorm.

Surrogacy is illegal in Italy, like in most other European countries, but Italy is going further. The Rome government is working on a bill that would make surrogacy abroad criminally liable in Italy, a move that would mostly affect gay men. Many lawyers say such a provision would be unenforceable.

“All it took was for the government to change," said Alessia Crocini, an activist with LGBT group Rainbow Families. “The climate that has been created over the last few months is really like a witch hunt."

Italy is bucking the trend in Western countries, which have mostly been moving toward greater equality of rights and recognition for same-sex couples. Same-sex couples can’t get married in Italy. Lesbians are banned from accessing fertility treatment. Gay adoption is only allowed under exceptional circumstances.

The far-reaching influence of the Catholic Church helps explain why Italy has moved more slowly than many other Western countries in expanding gay rights. Italian church leaders opposed the 2016 law that legalized civil unions in Italy. In 2021, the Vatican lobbied against a bill aimed at criminalizing violence and discrimination against gay people before Italy’s Parliament on the grounds that it would have interfered with the Church’s religious freedom. The bill didn’t pass.

Italian public opinion on gay rights has become more liberal over the past decade. A global survey by Ipsos last year found that 63% of Italians view same-sex parenthood favorably, compared with 73% of Americans and 39% of people in Poland, one of Europe’s most socially conservative countries.

But traditional family values are especially important for Ms. Meloni’s voter base. Around 58% of those who vote for her Brothers of Italy party oppose adoption by gay couples, compared with 32% of Italians overall, according to an Ipsos poll carried out last month.

“There has been a significant shift in public opinion in recent years. There used to be a lot of skepticism, a lot of opposition" to expanding gay rights, said Lorenzo Pregliasco, head of the Quorum/YouTrend polling institute in Italy. “The right-wing government has a strong electoral mandate and feels it is in a position to set the agenda on questions of values where their voters are on the same page."

In recent months, Italy’s government and courts have taken new steps to restrict gay couples’ standing. Rome is opposing a European Union proposal for a certificate of parenthood valid throughout the bloc, because it would force Italy to recognize the status of same-sex parents.

Italy’s highest court in December blocked local authorities from recognizing foreign birth certificates of children born through surrogacy.

Last month, the government told the city of Milan, Italy’s business and fashion capital, to stop registering non-biological gay parents.

“Only parents that have a biological relationship with the child can be mentioned in birth certificates made in Italy," the Interior Ministry said in a letter to Milan’s mayor and chief prosecutor. The letter called for existing birth certificates “to be rectified."

“They are treating these certificates like mistakes that can be easily corrected. Mothers are treated like typos," said Susanna Lollini, a lawyer who works with LGBT groups.

The EU’s legislature, the European Parliament, has called on Italy to rescind its move on birth certificates, describing it as “part of a broader attack against the LGBTQI+ community in Italy."

Rome says it is merely enforcing existing laws. But many lawyers say Italian law is ambiguous.

The pressure has led many mayors across the country to stop registering non-biological gay parents on birth certificates. But, in the absence of clear legislation, some mayors are carrying on. Among them is Sergio Giordani, mayor of the northeastern city of Padua.

“There is no clear law when it comes to two mothers," said Mr. Giordani, who has no political affiliation. “I’m following my conscience. I’m doing what I think is right. I’m doing this for the children."

This month, the local district attorney began reviewing the 34 birth certificates issued by Mr. Giordani to children with two mothers since 2017—the first step toward potentially deleting the non-biological parents’ names.

Denise Rinehart, a 49-year-old American citizen, lives in the Italian city of Bologna with her wife and their two sons. When their youngest child was born in 2021, Ms. Rinehart, the non-biological parent, was included on his birth certificate. She worries it is a matter of time before her legal standing is erased.

“It could definitely happen," said Ms. Rinehart, who works in theater. “I fear they will do it to everyone."

The couple is already engaged in a court battle involving their first son, who is legally only Ms. Rinehart’s son. She wants her Italian wife, Giulia Garofalo Geymonat, to be recognized as his second parent. Until that happens, the 7-year-old boy, who was born and raised in Italy, is not entitled to Italian citizenship.

“My biggest worry is that I will be denied my parental rights over our first son and that my wife will be stripped of her parental rights over our second son," said Ms. Garofalo Geymonat, 45. “If one of us dies or becomes sick, these children aren’t protected."

For many gay and lesbian couples in Italy, the only way to be recognized as parents is through adoption. But adoption is a particularly slow process in Italy.

Nadia Lettieri and her wife filed their adoption request to a court in their hometown of Naples in 2020, soon after the birth of their first son. The first hearing has been scheduled for October 2023.

“My wife is forced to adopt the children that she saw being born and whom she has raised with me," said Ms. Lettieri. “This is why it makes me angry when people tell us: ‘Just go through the adoption route, what’s the big deal?’"

Their youngest son, Mattia, who is 1, has been in and out of hospital with respiratory problems since birth. Only Ms. Lettieri is officially allowed to accompany the baby to the hospital and to take time off work to care for him.

“We have to beg doctors to allow her to see our son, including when he was in intensive care," said Ms. Lettieri. “We depend on concessions from individuals, on their good hearts, whether it’s teachers or doctors. It’s not possible to live like this."

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