Rome: Italy’s interior minister has called for surrogates to be treated as sex offenders, as part of a broader campaign against the prime minister’s efforts to grant family rights to same-sex couples. “We want ‘wombs for rent’ to become a universal crime. And that it is punished with prison. Just as happens for sexual crimes,” Angelino Alfano said on Wednesday.
The minister’s comments outline the fierce debate over family rights under way in Italy as the country prepares to give gay couples legal rights for the first time. The push for same-sex unions and stepchild adoption rights has proved perhaps the greatest challenge in the first two years of Matteo Renzi’s coalition government.
Surogacy is illegal in Italy and Alfano has suggested that in allowing stepchild adoption, through which a person can adopt the biological child of their partner, it would be easier for gay couples to use surrogate mothers.
“If Italy has a law that allows stepchild adoption for gay couples, the day after we will start a huge collection of signatures for a repeal referendum. And I will be first in line,” Alfano told the Avvenire newspaper, which is owned by the Italian bishops’ conference.
Mario Colamarino, president of the Circolo Mario Mieli, a gay rights association, said the minister’s comments were unacceptable and accused Alfano of a misinformation campaign. “Stepchild adoption is a situation which already exists; we see children without rights,” he said.
Gay couples have in the past gone abroad to have families through legal channels, although on their return to Italy only one partner can have parental rights. This has been challenged in individual cases brought by same-sex couples, some of whom have been granted the right to adopt.
Renzi’s law has been stalled by amendments tabled by the political right, but the prime minister says he is committed to pushing through the legislation and has allowed his MPs a conscience vote on the bill.
Renzi is facing pressure from the European court of human rights, which ruled last year that Italy had breached the rights of same-sex couples by failing to offer them legal protection.
While Alfano has agreed to legislation for same-sex partnerships, a position supported by the majority of Italians, his rejection of marriage and adoption rights has widespread support among conservatives.
A “family day” held in June brought hundreds of thousands of people to Rome, marching against proposed legal changes and lessons about gay families in schools. The Catholic church, which still has considerable influence over Italian politics, has stood firm in its opposition to same-sex relationships.