Giorgia Meloni treasures Italy’s families – unless they include same-sex parents

A Pride parade in Messina, Italy, 23 July 2022. Photograph: Gabriele Maricchiolo/NurPhoto/Rex/Shutterstock
A Pride parade in Messina, Italy, 23 July 2022. Photograph: Gabriele Maricchiolo/NurPhoto/Rex/Shutterstock

The family may be the cultural bedrock of Italian society, but an entirely conservative and patriarchal idea of family is what our current leaders and the country’s most powerful institutions want to promote. Giorgia Meloni’s words are always carefully chosen: “a child needs a mum and a dad”, “there is only one type of family – the one formed by a man and a woman”. Italy’s first female prime minister, who leads a hard-right coalition, likes to invoke the slogan “God, country and family”; she campaigned against what she calls “the LGBT lobby”, describes herself as “a woman, a mother, a Christian” and opposes same-sex marriage. But her statements about parenthood are a deliberate punch in the gut to anyone whose family doesn’t fit her narrow definition.

Meloni rose to power with the support of some political moderates, who hoped that once in the job she would not actually challenge the gains that had been made by rights campaigners in recent years. These hopes were misguided.

Last January, the interior minister, Matteo Piantedosi, circulated to Italian prefects – local representatives of the central government – a recommendation ordering the removal of non-biological parents from birth certificates, thus excluding thousands of LGBTQ+ parents from being legally declared as such. As a consequence, Padua’s public prosecutor has already requested the removal of 27 same-sex parents’ names from birth certificates, an act that would deprive 33 children of their right to two parents recognised as equals under the law. This has sent a devastating message across Italy that LGBTQ+ people are not worthy of parenthood. Same-sex parents have been given the feeling of once again being singled out as ugly exceptions to the “natural” family based on traditional values. The Italian authorities might tolerate them as babysitters, but refuse to see them as real parents.

Italy still lags behind much of Europe when it comes to LGBTQ+ rights: they have never been a political priority, even when the centre-left Democratic party was in power. We have lived through years of political inertia, even as other once socially conservative countries liberalised discriminatory laws or changed their constitutions. In Italy, by contrast, progressive parties seem to go out of their way not to antagonise either conservative voters or the Catholic church.

n 2016, we won partial success with legislation allowing civil partnerships for same-sex couples. It was an achievement that a large part of the queer community felt excluded from, as marriage and stepchild adoption rights were still restricted to opposite-sex couples. Yet it was at least a start, a step in the right direction.

Many of us hoped it would mark the beginning of a new era in Italy, but an ugly misstep came in 2021, when parliament failed to pass a Democratic party bill that would have criminalised hate offences against LGBTQ+ people. Minority rights remain strongly contested in Italy – not only by the right and the Vatican, which actively interferes on these matters, but also by part of the Catholic left, which plays a vital role in blocking progress.

Now, with a hard-right government in power, attacks on our rights have intensified. My acquaintances who are in same-sex families all share the same concern: that birth certificate and other bureaucratic changes will result in a new generalised social stigma, making their families’ lives harder. We are facing a dangerous political and cultural regression that may change many children’s daily lives for the worse, with parents potentially even barred from picking them up at school or taking them to the doctor without authorisation from the legal parent. We are not there yet, but we could be soon.

There is some resistance. The mayor of Padua, Sergio Giordani, has continued the registration of same-sex families, explaining that he is doing so in the primary interest of the children. On 11 November, the first court hearing will be held in the case of two women in a civil partnership who are fighting to defend their daughters’ rights.

But the overall picture is bleak. A bill introduced earlier this year by a Brothers of Italy politician, Maria Carolina Varchi, would criminalise those who sought surrogacy abroad, making it an offence punishable by large fines and prison sentences. The bill has passed through the chamber of deputies and is still before the senate justice committee. Surrogacy in Italy is already illegal, while IVF is only available for opposite-sex couples, which leaves many same-sex couples with little option but to go abroad. Varchi has said that foreign surrogacy is a “degrading practice” aimed at “destroying, by contract, the idea of motherhood”.

The legislation is another attempt to further shame and make life difficult for LGBTQ+ families and those couples who want to start their own. Meloni’s goal is to cement the traditional, Catholic notion of the family by means of a war on “different” families. People who love and care for their children as much as any other parents have been effectively delegitimised by the state. The emotional and practical consequences will be huge. Meloni does not care about the damage she is doing – but my hope is that the Italian people, and others across Europe, will.

Luisa Rizzitelli is the Italy coordinator of One Billion Rising, which campaigns to end violence against women.

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