May 1, 2023 - 11:00am

Italy is beginning to crack down on gay parenting rights. After Poland and Hungary, it is now the only EU country that forbids gay couples from adopting children.

In 2016, Italy legalised same-sex civil unions under a centre-Left government, but pressure from Catholic and conservative groups prevented legally granting them adoption rights. 

Some critics argued at the time that this ban on adoption would lead gay couples seeking surrogacy — whether commercial or altruistic — abroad, which is illegal in Italy. It is considered a criminal act, punishable with up to two years in prison and €1 million in fines, with the country’s law stating that the woman who bears the child in her womb is legally its mother.

Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni is now pushing for a bill to make surrogacy a universal crime. This means that if gay couples with Italian citizenship seek surrogacy in foreign countries where it is legal, and then return to Italy seeking parental rights, they risk the same harsh punishment. Though the law is difficult to enforce, it is testament to the increasingly intolerant approach Italy’s government is adopting towards gay couples.   

Up until recently, there were regulatory loopholes in which same-sex couples could return with children legally recognised abroad via local administrations. But the centre-Left mayor of Milan, Giuseppe Sala, was prohibited from continuing this practice with a letter sent by the Ministry of the Interior citing Italy’s highest court, claiming that the legal recognition of parental status required court approval. Children of gay couples are thus left in a legal limbo, as they are denied the right to have both parents recognised on their birth certificate. The EU has attempted to enforce a law that made recognition of gay parents applicable to the entire bloc, but it was blocked by Italy’s senate.   

Stripping children from the legal status of their parents because of surrogacy performed abroad, including with gay parents, is a dangerous proposition. It means denying children the status and security that comes with having two parents. In extreme cases, should the legal parent pass away, the child would risk being transported to an orphanage, with the second non-legal parent having to attempt emergency adoption. If both parents were found guilty of seeking surrogacy abroad and were punished with prison time, the child would risk having no parents at all.

More fundamentally, Meloni’s push to strip gay couples of parental recognition is a distinctly unconservative move. The fact is that it will result in a further break-up of family life, which is something to which the Italian PM is meant to be opposed. In the context of Italy’s rapidly declining birth rate, such strict laws on surrogacy won’t induce the birth of more children: quite the opposite. This measure should be strongly opposed.

Alessandra Bocchi is a journalist.