A public prosecutor in the Italian city of Padova is attempting to challenge the legitimacy of 33 birth certificates of children born to same-sex couples via insemination by a donor. The prosecutor, Valeria Sanzani, also seeks to remove the names of the mothers considered “non-genetic” from the birth certificates.
This motion is one of the broadest within more widespread, though still patchwork, efforts in Italy that have emerged in the past six months to annul the birth certificates of children conceived through the use of reproductive technologies abroad, particularly in cases concerning “rainbow families” – families with same-sex parents.
This includes another case in Milan, in which the birth certificate of a child born abroad via surrogacy to two men was annulled.
Such action should be seen in light of the Meloni government’s policy aims, which are being interpreted and enacted in a way that particularly targets rainbow families.
Going back a few months
In January, Meloni’s Minister of the Interior issued a circular ordering all Italian Mayors to stop automatically registering the births of children born or conceived abroad via assisted reproductive technologies.
The circular cited a case from Italy’s Court of Cassation, which ruled on December 30 2022, that the birth certificate of a child of a gay couple who used a surrogate abroad to conceive should not be automatically recognised and transcribed in Italy.
Although the court case and circular related to surrogacy, a practice which is illegal in Italy for both heterosexual and same-sex couples as well as single people, in its interpretation and enactment by Prefectures and Municipalities, it has specifically targeted rainbow families, including those who don’t use surrogacy.
In April, the Milan prefecture extended the logic of the circular to same-sex couples who conceived abroad via insemination by a donor. This cited Italian law, which states that insemination by a donor is only legal for heterosexual couples, and specifically argued that birth certificates of children born to same-sex parents should be targeted.
At the time, the Mayor of Milan agreed that he would not automatically transcribe birth certificates moving forward, but declined to retroactively revise the ones he had already signed. Also in April, the birth certificate of one child born to two mothers was annulled in the city of Bergamo.
The events in Padova are noteworthy as they suggest a growing, and worrisome trend. The prosecutor has challenged the legitimacy of many more birth certificates, and going as far back as 2017 (the year after civil unions for same-sex couples were legalised in Italy).
Such a move would have consequences for both children and parents. The children, some as old as six, would have their names and parental status forcibly changed by an act of the state. The non-genetic parent would lose parental rights. They wouldn’t be able to pick up their children from school, take them to the doctor or leave the country without an official note from the legally-recognised parent.
Within Italy, motions like the ones enacted in Padova, Milan, and Bergamo are being seen as acts that punish LGBTQ+ individuals and their children.
In an opinion piece for La Stampa, lawyer Filomena Gallo writes, “Children will be estranged (allontanati) from their legitimate families just to satisfy the ideological whims of the proponents (of these efforts).”
Moves from the Meloni government
While campaigning, Meloni made clear the stance that her government could be expected to have regarding LGBTQ+ rights. In a 2022 rally in Spain, Meloni exclaimed: “Yes to the natural family! No to the LGBT lobby!”
The January circular marked the beginnings of the Meloni government’s actions to make good on such positions. Currently, her party, the Brothers of Italy, is pursuing legislation that could result in an almost total ban on state recognition of rainbow families. These actions focus on surrogacy – making surrogacy abroad illegal, which would affect heterosexual couples and singles as well. However, the behaviour of public officials, together with the rights of same-sex couples under current Italian law, mean that the consequences for LGBTQ+ individuals hoping to start families would be drastic.
While a total ban on surrogacy would affect heterosexual couples seeking to conceive as well, these couples have a right to adopt or to use artificial insemination through a donor that same-sex couples do not have in Italy.
Problems with citizenship
A serious concern is the impact that such policies could have on the citizenship status of the concerned children. Should Sanzari’s challenge be successful in court, the question will become: what to make of the children whose Italian citizenship derives from the non-genetic/gestational parent?
Though same-sex unions have been legal through civil partnership since 2016, these unions don’t provide the same rights as official marriage in Italy, notably the right to adopt as a couple. In current cases, adoption rights for the non-genetic parent are not guaranteed, only result from a long and arduous process, and are only considered when circumstances have been deemed exceptional.
As such, for bi-national, same-sex couples in Italy, recognised partnership in Italy does not necessarily mean that their children will have Italian citizenship. With the removal of non-genetic same-sex partners on birth certificates, there is a potential loss of citizenship for the children. Some are already into their primary school education and have not necessarily known any other country as home.
‘Protecting the children’
In mobilizing public sentiment against LGBTQ+ people, opponents often invoke the need to protect “the child”. From drag queen story hour to gay marriage, many elements of LGBTQ+ inclusion have been framed as a threat to children.
Meloni’s government ran on a platform of protecting the family, attempting to connect conservative policies on LGBTQ+ inclusion and migration through the frame of defending a homeland and family. One of her campaign slogans was “God, homeland, family.” An unfortunate irony, then, that this policy is proving so destructive to families.
With these moves, the Meloni government further establishes itself as a new force for anti-LGBTQ+ politics in Europe, alongside the governments of Poland and Hungary.
The Hungarian government has passed a series of anti-LGBTQ+ legislation over the past few years, banning LGBTQ+ content in schools as well as in books and television programmes geared toward young people, ending gender recognition by the state and embedding a ban on gay marriage and adoption in the constitution.
Poland has also recently passed a ban on LGBTQ+ content in schools and denied recognition to rainbow families. Since 2020, the government has supported local initiatives to establish “LGBT-free zones” in municipalities throughout the country.
Concerned by this alliance, the European parliament passed an amendment, strongly condemning “the spread of anti-rights, anti-gender and anti-LGBTQ+ rhetoric by some influential political leaders and governments in the EU, as in the case of Hungary, Poland and Italy.”
If successful in Italy, then it is possible that we could see these efforts adopted elsewhere in Europe. As we’ve seen, anti-rights legislation is proliferating in certain parts of Europe. Should other governments follow in the footsteps of what they perceive as a successful effort in Italy, then even more children in Europe will be at risk of denaturalisation just for having same-sex parents.