Holding a rainbow flag, Marco Marras walked on stage at the start of a rally being held by Giorgia Meloni in Sardinia during her election campaign to confront her about gay rights. As security men moved to shoo him away, the student told the Brothers of Italy leader, now Italy’s first female prime minister, he wanted to be able to get married and raise a family in his own country. Meloni replied: “You want a lot of things … everyone wants things; you already have civil unions.”
If gay people in Italy, a country that regularly ranks in reports as being among the worst in western Europe for LGBTQ+ rights, had already understood that privileges so far gained were threadbare, Meloni made it explicitly clear they would not get any better under her government.
“I acted out of a sense of duty,” said Marras, 24. “Meloni had come to Cagliari to meet an audience of ‘yes men’, people who support her and who call her ‘great Giorgia’. I wanted to show something that her electorate doesn’t want to see or accept – LGBT people – we are not monsters but normal people who want basic rights. She practically responded: ‘Be happy with what you have’ – they think I should live a lesser life because I’m gay.”
A government led by Brothers of Italy, a party with neofascist origins, and including Matteo Salvini’s far-right League and Silvio Berlusconi’s Forza Italia, was sworn into office on Saturday. The first formal step towards its formation resulted in the election of two controversial figures: Ignazio La Russa, a Brothers of Italy politician who collects fascist memorabilia, and Lorenzo Fontana, a League member with anti-abortion and anti-gay views, as speakers of the upper and lower house of parliament respectively.
Italy enacted a civil unions law in 2016 when the country was governed by a coalition led by the centre-left Democratic party, but the bill stopped short of legalising gay marriage, while a clause that would have allowed a person to adopt the child of their same-sex partner was scrapped after pressure from rightwing parties and the Catholic church.
A common feature of the rabble-rousing speeches given by Meloni, a self-described “Christian mother” who says she defends traditional family values, is the reiteration of her view that a child should only be raised by heterosexual parents.
IVF for homosexual couples is banned in Italy, forcing people to travel abroad to become parents. Surrogacy, meanwhile, is prohibited outright, and Meloni has proposed extending a ban to criminalise gay couples who seek surrogate mothers abroad.
“It’s shocking, you could risk jail or fines regardless of where in the world your child is born through surrogacy,” said Monica Savoca, who lives in the Sicilian city of Catania with her Spanish wife, Maria Carreras, and their two children. “This discussion over surrogacy is part of a medieval vision. We felt afraid after the elections – they call themselves ‘moderate’ when, in fact, we’re talking about an extreme-right government that shouldn’t exist in Europe.”
Some cities and towns in Italy have embraced gay parenting, for example by allowing children of same-sex couples to be legally registered with the surnames of both parents. However, authorities in other areas have been less welcoming, such as in Catania, where the town hall is being taken to court by Savoca and Carreras after it refused the registration procedure for their children – Pau, 12, and Mia, 11.
They said they had never felt discrimination in terms of acceptance of their family in other areas of society. “I must say that society is much more open than the political world,” said Savoca. However, if they lose their case, and given the current political climate, they are ready to leave Italy and return to live in Spain, where they were married and both children were born via IVF, one to each mother.
They are especially afraid about the appointment of Eugenia Roccella, a Brothers of Italy deputy who in 2017 said she wanted to either abolish or significantly modify the civil unions bill, as minister of families, births and equal opportunities. Roccella said the bill had damaged the traditional family, and also rejected a law that would have criminalised homophobia, arguing that it compromised free speech.
“This government shouldn’t only make us in the minority groups afraid, but everyone,” said Savoca.
Italy’s new prime minister has repeatedly said she is not homophobic and will not try to repeal the civil unions law. However, there are fears her leadership will trigger a rise in homophobic attacks. The law that would have criminalised homophobia, drafted by Alessandro Zan, a gay politician with the Democratic party, was shelved last year after being boycotted by the rightwing groups.
“When the law was a theme there was a reaction in terms of an increase in homotransphobic incidents,” said Zan. “This is because people who acted out their discrimination felt authorised to do so. It will be the same with the demonisation of gay families. For this reason, we need to be really tough in opposition as we cannot accept that parties exploit human rights to obtain a political dividend.”
Marras, who was hit with a barrage of online insults over his confrontation with Meloni, worries that her government will attempt to justify homophobia, and may try to tamper with the civil unions law.
“They could amend the law to allow ‘conscientious objectors’, who for example could be mayors who are permitted to refuse a civil union for moral reasons,” he said. “So they maintain the law but block its implementation.”