Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni has ordered municipalities to stop certifying foreign birth certificates for same-sex couples who used surrogacy, leaving some babies in a legal limbo.
MILAN — After a long flight from Seattle with their newborn son crying in their laps, an Italian couple gathered their infant’s American birth certificate from the overhead compartment, got his American passport stamped and found friends and neighbors cheering with celebratory balloons outside their Milan apartment.
But the Italian state was less welcoming to Davide Fassi, 49; his longtime partner, Davide Chiappa, 44; and their son, Martino Libero Fassi Chiappa, who was born through surrogacy by an American woman.
In the days before they returned to Italy last month, the government of Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni ordered municipalities to obey a court ruling made in December and stop certifying foreign birth certificates of children born to Italian same-sex couples through surrogacy, which is illegal in Italy.
The decision has left Martino Libero and several other children suspended in a legal limbo, depriving them of automatic Italian citizenship and residency rights like access to the country’s free health care system and nursery school.
“He’s a tourist now, an immigrant,” said Mr. Fassi as he and Mr. Chiappa sat on a couch in their apartment next to the now-deflated balloons and the cradle of the sleeping baby, clad in lion pajamas and lifting his arms in a dream.
The government ban — backed up by law enforcement visits to the registry office in Milan — has become the first prominent sign of a hard-right ideological edge that Ms. Meloni has mostly checked since winning election in September.
Her critics now fear she intends to feed her base by slicing away rights that run counter to the conservative vision of family long promoted by Ms. Meloni, who once famously denounced birth certificates that listed “Parent 1” and “Parent 2” instead of “Mother” and “Father.”
Milan, a city that has long served as a cosmopolitan haven for same-sex couples in Italy, has for now complied with the Meloni government order and suspended issuing Italian birth certificates.
Without official recognition, Libero Martino, 2 months old this month, will have to leave and re-enter the country every few months to remain legal. A court could eventually recognize one of the men as the biological father — they decline to say which one is the sperm donor — and then they could start a separate adoption process for the other. But in the meantime, they say, their son is stuck.
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“The most important thing is the status,” said Mr. Chiappa, who wore “Best Dad Ever” socks and obsessively washed the baby’s blue pacifier every time it fell on the floor.
“The most important thing,” added Mr. Fassi, who whispered, “Ciao, Martino,” when the boy stirred, “is that he is our son.”
Ms. Meloni’s government has sought to shift the issue away from the status of the children to the practice of surrogacy, which, while legal in the United States and Canada, is illegal or restricted in much of Europe outside of Greece, Ukraine and a few other countries. In Italy, home of the Vatican, it is not only illegal, but it is also widely opposed, including among Catholic corners of the center-left opposition.
That has made it an easy issue for Ms. Meloni.
Eugenia Roccella, the minister for family, birthrate and equal opportunity, has railed against the “uterus for rent,” warned of “a market of babies” and argued that there was a “racist connotation” to the practice in which having white women carry fetuses cost more than Black women.
Prominent members of Ms. Meloni’s Brothers of Italy party have called surrogacy a crime “even worse than pedophilia,” in which gay couples, one of whom is usually the biological father, seek to “pass off” children as their own and mistake “children for Smurfs,” saying gay couples can uniquely afford surrogacy, even though it is overwhelmingly used more by heterosexual couples.
The party is floating a proposal, made by Ms. Meloni when she was a member of Parliament, to make Italians’ seeking of surrogate births abroad — what she had called “procreative tourism” — illegal and “punishable with three months to two years of prison and a fine of 600,000 to a million euros.”
Ms. Meloni’s impassioned speeches against same-sex parents became a rallying point for conservatives around the globe, but were also sampled, ironically, into a house music anthem that played in the clubs and on the radio. (Audio of her saying “Parent 1, Parent 2” was played on a loop before she screamed “I am Giorgia.”) And Ms. Meloni telegraphed her tough line on the campaign trail.
In an interview shortly before her election, as her young daughter ran around her in a Sardinia courtyard, Ms. Meloni said she opposed gay marriage, not because she was homophobic — “I’ve got many, many homosexual friends” — but because she saw it as a step to same-sex adoption, which she opposed, and which the Roman Catholic Church successfully lobbied to exclude from a civil unions law passed in 2016.
Ms. Meloni said that growing up without a father — he abandoned the family in Rome for the Canary Islands — convinced her that only married families should adopt. She acknowledged that since she is not married, but in a long-term relationship with her companion, the father of her daughter, she, too, in her view, should not be allowed to adopt.
“If tomorrow we will have really lots of babies in the institutions waiting for somebody, I will tell you, ‘Everybody can adopt,’” she said. “But it’s not the reality of today. So me, I want to give that child the best. Is that unpresentable? Is that the monster? No, I’m not a monster.”
But some same-sex couples say Ms. Meloni’s fangs are showing.
“It’s the real side,” Mr. Fassi said.
“The litmus test,” Mr. Chiappa said.
“It’s only the beginning,” they said in unison.
Last month Mr. Fassi and Mr. Chiappa spoke at a major rally in Milan attended by about 10,000 people. After they left the stage, Elly Schlein, the new leader of the liberal opposition and herself an L.G.B.T.Q. woman, told the crowd, “This retrograde majority has inexplicably lashed out at children ideologically.”
For the couples who planned to visit Room 143 of the Milan hall of public records to register foreign births, it is painful. But Gaia Romani, a city official who helps the couples navigate a complicated terrain of transcription, adoption and certification policy, explained that Ms. Meloni had tied her hands.
She recounted the “political act” of law enforcement officials’ showing up to demand the records of all children registered to same-sex couples since 2015 and then putting her office on notice that they could undo any registration in the past two years.
The city handed over the records so as not to risk the removal of Mayor Giuseppe Sala, who signed many of the certificates, or to provoke the Meloni government into reversing the status of children it had already certified, what Ms. Romani considered “surely the next step.”
She personally called the eight families, including Mr. Fassi and Mr. Chiappa, waiting to register their children to explain the situation. At a meeting in her office, which she said had been transformed into a “nursery school,” parents asked “very operational” questions to “guarantee all the rights possible” to the children. She said her office would look to the courts to find wiggle room, but she was not optimistic.
“Taking rights away doesn’t cost anything,” she said, adding that she had expected Ms. Meloni to come after the children of same-sex couples, just “not so quickly.”
Mr. Fassi, on the other hand, said that as soon as Ms. Meloni won election, he told his partner she would “do something” to disturb their dream of having a child.
On their first date, in 2009, overlooking Milan’s duomo, the two men talked about the idea of gay couples’ having families. Both pursued careers in other countries — China for Mr. Fassi, a professor of public design, France for Mr. Chiappa, who works in fashion — and had a civil union in 2017, with an exchange of vows.
“We were mentioning the three cats, and then we said, who knows, maybe in the future a child of our own,” Mr. Fassi recalled, his eyes welling.
Covid slowed their timeline, but they used Zoom to interview Italian couples and friends who had become parents through surrogacy. They said at least 15 such couples lived in the neighborhood, and even the priest at the parish Mr. Fassi attended seemed supportive. They settled on a surrogate in Oregon.
On Feb. 1, Mr. Chiappa welcomed Martino Libero in the delivery room while Mr. Fassi, nervously listened to his playlist in the waiting room.
He recalled the song playing at that moment: “Milano Good Vibes.”
Gaia Pianigiani contributed reporting from Siena, Italy.