Italian leader Meloni ‘cancelling lives’ in crackdown on same-sex parenting

Lesbian couples no longer recognised as legal parents on birth certificates

Sara Della Villa and Silvia Mao, two Italian nurses, fell in love after meeting at work seven years ago in a small town near the northern city of Padova.

They bought a house, got a dog and decided to have a baby. As Italy does not allow same-sex couples to undergo in vitro fertilisation, they flew to Spain for the procedure. Mao (29) provided the eggs and Della Villa (36) carried the pregnancy. In January, their son was born.

Now, the two women and their baby are entangled in a bitter ideological battle over who should raise children, as prime minister Giorgia Meloni’s rightwing coalition tries to impose its conservative moral values on an evolving society.

Last week, the birth certificate recognising both Della Villa and Mao as their son’s legal parents was annulled by the Padova city prosecutor, who simultaneously invalidated the birth certificates of 33 children born to 17 lesbian couples in the city since 2017.


The prosecutor – whose action came after the government repeatedly expressed disapproval of LGBT+ couples raising children together – said Italian law did not allow children to have two mothers. Eugenia Roccella, the minister for family and birth rates, endorsed the move, saying it affirmed that “there are only two ways to become a parent – either biologically or through adoption”.

Mao now faces the prospect of a long legal fight – or a complex and costly court adoption process – to establish herself as the legal parent of her own genetic child. Italian family law was never updated in light of IVF technology and only recognises a woman who gives birth, in their case Della Villa, as a mother.

“We don’t want anything more than what all Italian citizens have – rights – so that we can be comfortable and raise these children in complete serenity,” Mao said in an interview. “Society is ready; the government isn’t.”

Meloni, a mother herself, has never made a secret of her belief that parenthood should be a privilege reserved for heterosexual couples, and before coming to power railed against what she called “the gay lobby”. Her coalition partner, Matteo Salvini, leader of the far-right League, calls gay parents “unnatural”.

Since coming to power, their government has been on the offensive against gay parents, with the interior ministry ordering city mayors to stop issuing birth certificates recognising same-sex couples as children’s legal parents.

Instead, the ministry instructed cities to grant parental rights to a single biological parent, leaving the other partner to undergo a lengthy “special adoption process” to secure recognition as a parent.

Meloni’s arch-conservative Brothers of Italy party is also pushing to make it a criminal offence for Italian citizens to have babies through surrogacy abroad, which activists say would shut down gay men’s only potential path to parenthood.

“We want a nation in which – whatever each person’s legitimate choices and free inclinations – it is no longer a scandal to say we are all born from a man and a woman,” Meloni said at a recent forum on Italy’s languishing birth rates.

Meloni denies being “homophobic” but wrote in her autobiography that “every child has a right to have a father and a mother” and that she – raised by a single mother herself – wants to safeguard those rights.

However, LGBT+ activists and opposition politicians say her policies amount to harassment of Italy’s non-traditional families, including an estimated 2.7 million single-parent households.

“It is not only the law that lives in the past, but also politicians want us to live in the past – cancelling our lives or making them so hard that we stop having families,” said Cathy La Torre, a prominent attorney and LGBT+ rights activist.

“They say, ‘we want a traditional family – that’s all’,” she added. “It’s very fascist behaviour not to accept that there are other models of families.”

After years of legal and political battles, Italy in 2016 legalised same-sex civil unions, granting gay couples most of the rights and protections of married couples. By the end of 2021 – the latest data available, 13,168 same-sex couples had made such long-term commitments, according to Italy’s statistics agency.

But civil unions still do not provide gay couples a legal path for starting a family together. Gay couples are barred from adopting children or accessing assisted reproductive treatment like IVF – and surrogacy has been illegal in Italy since 2004, forcing same-sex couples to go abroad.

This offers mayors plenty of leeway when same-sex couples seek to register their children in Italy.

“Mine was a choice of conscience,” said Padova mayor Sergio Giordani, a centre-left leaning independent, who issued the now annulled birth certificates recognising lesbian couples as their children’s co-parents. “I didn’t want to create a disparity on children’s rights.”

“If just one mother remains it means the other mother can’t go to the hospital with their child, or can’t take them to kindergarten,” he said. “How can you do something like this?”

With more legal cases involving same-sex parents winding up in court in recent years, judges have called for new legislation that reflects social and technological developments.

But so far, lawmakers – of all political persuasions – have ignored such pleas, allowing the existing family law to stand.

“Society is moving on, technology is moving on, but our politicians don’t want to recognise that,” said Francesca Benciolini, a Padova city councillor. “It’s a very conservative way of thinking – always being afraid of what is new.”

Meanwhile, Mao and Della Villa insist their ambiguous legal status will not affect their commitment to raising their son together as a family.

“We are two people who love each other and who wanted a baby,” said Della Villa. “In the end, we are two mothers – no one between us is more a mother than the other one; we are mothers in the same way.” – Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2023