Even at eight years old, twins Ginevra and Emanuele Giraldi Duca, born through surrogacy in the United States and raised by their two dads in Rome, are not oblivious to Italy’s clampdown on same-sex parents.
Right-wing Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni came to power six months ago vowing to combat what she calls the “LGBT lobby”. In recent weeks authorities made it harder for same-sex couples to be legal parents and lawmakers proposed an anti-surrogacy law widely seen as targeting gay couples.
Ginevra was indignant when, two weeks ago, an interviewer on a TV show asked her parents whether the twins missed having a mum.
“But no! What is she on about?” Ginevra protested, watching a recording of the talk show.
“We do not need a mother to live… It is also possible to live with two fathers. We are happy, we have all the things that other children have,” Emanuele told Reuters during a family interview at their home in southern Rome.
In January, the government issued orders that municipalities stop the registration of most children with same-sex parents, complicating access to schooling and medical services. The matter came to light when the centre-left mayor of Milan publicised it last month.
The measure means that in most cases only the biological parent of children raised by gay or lesbian couples can have parenting rights, leaving the other partner with no legal role.
Then in March, the ruling coalition presented a law in parliament to extend a national ban on surrogacy to couples who go abroad for the practice, with jail terms of up to two years and fines of 600,000-1 million euros ($1.09 million).
While the governing parties have a solid majority in parliament, it is unclear whether the bill will eventually pass, amid doubts about its legal grounding and warnings it would disproportionably affect same-sex couples.
Surrogacy, which is regulated and widespread in the United States and Canada but restricted in much of Europe, is illegal in Italy. Critics warn of the potential for a “poverty bias” against women who become surrogate mothers due to financial need.
Going abroad to have a baby is “an emotional rollercoaster and you also have to face the hostility of your own country” when you come back, said Cristiano Giraldi, one of the twins’ fathers along with his partner Giorgio Duca.
In Catholic Italy, gay marriage is illegal and same-sex couples already have fewer rights than in most of western Europe. A 2016 law allowing same-sex “civil unions” fell short of allowing LGBT partners to adopt each other’s children.
A prominent lawmaker from Meloni’s Brothers of Italy party has called same-sex parenting not normal, but public attitudes are more nuanced.
An Ipsos poll last month showed that while 65.4% of Italians oppose the idea of surrogacy, 45% are in favour of legal recognition for surrogate-born children versus 26% who are against.
Rainbow Families, a group representing same-sex parents in Italy, says its members are parents to around 1,500 children, but that this underestimates the national total.
Italian LGBT couples that want a baby have to go abroad as neither surrogacy, artificial insemination or adoption is available for them domestically. Heterosexual couples, on the other hand, can adopt and resort to artificial insemination.
Rainbow Families President Alessia Crocini said 90% of Italians who choose surrogacy are heterosexual couples, but they mostly do so in secret, meaning the new ban would de facto affect only gay couples who cannot hide it.
The January government order stops mayors from accepting birth certificates of foreign-born surrogate children with two fathers. It also bans certificates that name two mothers of an Italian-born baby after artificial insemination abroad.
In the absence of a national law on LGBT couples and their children, Milan and some other left-leaning cities had taken the autonomous initiative of registering them, putting biological and non-biological parents on the same legal footing.
Rome was among the cities that did not make this choice, meaning Giorgio Duca obtained legal parenting rights over Ginevra and Emanuele only after a lengthy special adoption process.
In the absence of joint recognition, non-biological parents cannot collect their children from school or request medical treatment for them without written authorisation from the legal parent.
Furthermore, if the legal parent dies or becomes seriously ill, the surviving partner has no rights over the couple’s children, who risk going to foster homes or being entrusted to other relatives.
Family Minister Eugenia Roccella, a former pro-abortion campaigner turned Christian conservative, defended the order to mayors, which enforces a ruling from Italy’s top appeals court that says children from LGBT families do not necessarily have to have two legal parents.
“There is no discrimination against (these) children” as they can still access schooling and medical services through one legal parent, Roccella told parliament last month.
Non-biological parents can still obtain parenting rights through the special stepchild adoption procedure used by Duca in Rome, but it takes years, can cost thousands of euros and involves court hearings and interviews by social services.
“The idea of having to adopt your own child is not great,” said Giulia, who declined to give her surname, at an LGBT families rally in the capital in March with her female partner and their twin children.
In some places, already-registered children of same-sex families are now being erased from the records, upon the initiative of prosecutors. In Milan, procedures are ongoing against four couples.
In such cases, couples receive a notice from the police, have to go to court, pay a lawyer and face a judge. In similar cases previously, judges have routinely ruled against same-sex parents.
So far, there is no suggestion the government will back down on either the order or the new surrogacy bill, despite condemnation from the European Parliament in a resolution last week.
Back in Rome, eight-year-old Emanuele Giraldi Duca was unfazed by all the controversy.
“Here (in my home) everything is normal, simple, easy,” he said.
($1 = 0.9134 euros)
(Editing by Gavin Jones and Frank Jack Daniel)
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