Fervent opposition has stalled the same-sex union vote in Italy and threatens to splinter Prime Minister Matteo Renzi's coalition. The hot mess surrounding what should have been an easy vote comes down to the bill's extension of already-legal "stepchild adoption" to same-sex couples.
The change would allow same-sex partners in a civil union to adopt the other's biological children, including children born through surrogacy.
A majority of legislators would likely otherwise support the bill, but most — and the vast majority of Italians — oppose same-sex adoption. Even Renzi's own Democratic Party has failed to unify on the issue, with an estimated 36 of its 112 senators opposing the bill.
The European Court of Human Rights ruled last June that Italy breached human rights by failing to offer civil unions with equal benefits to straight partners, including adoption rights.
Renzi aimed to put the bill, authored by Senator Monica Cirinna, to a vote by the end of 2015. Now, the most recent attempt in over two decades to legalize civil unions is expected to go to a vote when the Senate reconvenes on January 28.
At least 70 Italian cities will hold demonstrations in support of the bill on Saturday, Marilena Grassadonia, president of Italy's Famiglie Arcobaleno (Rainbow Families) said in an interview with Gays With Kids.
"The Italian position in terms of LGBT rights compared to most European countries is gruesome and shameful," she says. Grassadonia says the public is, overall, more open and inclusive than government representatives.
A June 2015 poll showed public support for the bill at 74%. The Italian public overwhelmingly supports civil unions but not gay family adoption rights — though the bill’s popularity indicates citizens may be more open to “stepchild adoption" than same-sex couples adopting children without biological ties.
"Never before have LGBT organizations and we, as Rainbow Families (Famiglie Arcobaleno), received so much solidarity and participation," Grassadonia says. "In real life, real people who do not live by prejudice and fear are in favor of children's and parents' happiness."
The Vatican accused Renzi’s government of “putting the traditional family in the corner,” the Italian English-language website The Local reports.
Cardinal Angelo Bagnasco — who has venomously condemned same-sex unions as recently as last year — spoke out Sunday to let the public know he thinks Italy’s annual pro-tradition (and anti-LGBT) Family Day rally is “absolutely necessary” this year.
Though we’d love to ignore the seemingly pointless statement completely, it does indicate a shift in Vatican attitudes. Catholic bishops were notably absent from last year's Family Day rally but are expected to demonstrate this year. Vatican expert Marco Ansaldo of the Italian newspaper La Repubblica suspects the pope sanctioned the statement, indicating a shift in strategy.
“Bagnasco’s statement means the bishops have probably spoken to the Pope, who will have allowed them a free hand,” he says. Vatican has until now refrained from involving itself directly in the civil union debate.
Italy’s interior minister, Angelino Alfano, took the fight to another level earlier this month, calling for surrogate parents to be treated as sex offenders. Italians who travel abroad for surrogacy services currently face no legal repercussions upon their return to Italy, where surrogacy is illegal.
“Stepchild [adoption] really risks bringing wombs for rent to the country, towards the most repugnant, illicit trade that man could have invented,” Alfano told the Italian bishop’s conference-owned newspaper Avvenire.
Grassadonia says the stepchild adoption section of the bill simply includes gay couples in a 1983 law extending parental rights to non-biological parents.
"You are not legislating on anything new, we are limited only to extending the rights already in place for heterosexual couples, focusing on the child's interest," she says.
In Italy, she says, straight couples comprise 95% of the foreign surrogacy clientele. Increasingly, in countries where reports of humans rights violations have surfaced — Thailand and India, for example — gay surrogacy has been banned.
"Egalitarian marriage, adoption and full recognition of children at birth: These rights that could be conquered would make Italy a truly 'civil' country," Grassadonia says.
Photo credit: Gay Star News