Legal Limbo- The Discrimination of LGBTQ+ Parents in Italy’s Civil Sphere

legal limbo

As we wave goodbye to Pride month for 2023, it is easy to forget its importance until the next year rolls around. However, Italy’s recent actions are a stark reminder as to why the fight for equal rights continues every day.

Italy has become the latest country to introduce new discriminatory measures as same-sex parents risk losing their parental rights in the rise of Italian Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni’s policies.

While Italy legalised same-sex unions in 2016, LGBTQ+ couples continue to face legal hurdles to create, and now maintain, their families.

In March 2023 Meloni ordered city councils to stop registering the children of same-sex couples born via surrogacy under both parent’s names, citing a ruling from Italy’s highest court that same-sex parents could only obtain legal recognition with the court’s explicit approval of an adoption order.

In the wake of Meloni’s recent order, Valeria Sanzari, prosecutor of Padua, has initiated legal proceedings to alter 33 birth certificates signed by the city’s mayor and remove the name of the non-biological mother of lesbian parents.

Such action will not only devastate and traumatise parents and children alike but have practical implications that will severely limit a non-biological mother’s rights and ability to care for her children. For example, a non-biological mother will be unable to complete basic tasks such as picking her child up from school without the written permission of her partner. Even more alarmingly, if the legally recognised biological mother dies, the other will have little legal rights and risks her child becoming a ward of the State.

If Sanzari’s proceedings are successful, it will ensure the only avenue available for non-biological mothers to gain legal rights to their children is to endure a lengthy adoption procedure. Such procedures leave non-biological mothers in fear of losing their child if their relationship with their partner breaks down before having secured legal recognition.

This action comes from Italy’s attempt to deter surrogacy by same-sex couples. At present, surrogacy is illegal in Italy, punishable by custodial sentences ranging from three months to two years and fines from €600,000 to €1,000,000- leaving same-sex couples without a route to create a family that is perfectly legal in other countries.

In an attempt to extend this prohibition, Italy’s legislature is currently debating a new law, known as ‘DL Varchi’, that would criminalise couples who undergo surrogacy abroad in countries where it is legal. While this law will also impact heterosexual couples facing infertility, such reforms will disproportionately affect same-sex couples who lack the option to purport that their child was born naturally once back on Italian soil.

‘DL Varchi’ is a novel legal reform as no other countries presently criminalise surrogacy legally conducted abroad, even when the practice is illegal nationally. Despite such reforms being difficult to enforce given the legal implications of criminalising legal actions after the fact, its implementation will serve to strike further fear into the hearts of Italian same-sex families.

Until Italy repeals these discriminatory reforms, same-sex parents will be left stranded in legal limbo as their parental rights become even more precarious than before.

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