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(Berlin) – The  Italian Chamber of Deputies’ approval of the civil unions bill on May 11, 2016 is an important step toward equality. The vote came after months of heated debate, and the law was only passed after a provision for adoption was removed from the original bill.

A woman holds a banner in front of the Colosseum during the annual gay pride parade in Rome on June 15, 2013. © 2013 Reuters

“The approval of the civil union law is a milestone in the struggle toward legal recognition for same sex-couples in Italy,” said Boris Dittrich, advocacy director in the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) rights program at Human Rights Watch. “But restrictive adoption provisions for same-sex couples deny some children the legal protection and security they deserve.”

Since 2010, a number of Italian courts have ruled that same-sex couples are entitled to partnership recognition, and major cities, including Rome and Milan, have allowed same-sex couples to symbolically register marriages conducted abroad. In July 2015, the European Court of Human Rights held that Italy violated the right to privacy and family life in failing to provide sufficient and reliable legal protection for same-sex relationships.

The approval of the civil union law is a milestone in the struggle toward legal recognition for same sex-couples in Italy.
Boris Dittrich

LGBT advocacy director

Civil unions are not the same as same-sex marriage, which is legal in the European Union member states of Belgium, Denmark, France, Ireland, Luxemburg, the Netherlands, Portugal, Spain, Sweden, and the United Kingdom, excluding Northern Ireland.


The Civil Union Act is a watered down version of a bill first introduced by Prime Minister Matteo Renzi’s Democratic Party in 2014. While opponents introduced thousands of amendments, the most controversial provision in the original bill would have given a partner in a same-sex couple the right to adopt their partner’s children. In February, the Senate approved a compromise text that removed this option, paving the way for the vote in the Chamber of Deputies. According to article 73 of the Italian Constitution, the President of the Republic needs to promulgate the law. It is expected he will do so.

In the debates in the Italian parliament, opponents of so-called stepchild adoption used discredited arguments alleging harmful consequences of same-sex parenting. However, more than 70 peer-reviewed scholarly studies from around the world have concluded that children of gay or lesbian parents fare as well as other children. And for LGBT children, growing up in an environment of nondiscrimination and equality serves their best interest. Italian law does not allow adoption by unmarried couples or individuals.

In the last two months, courts have ruled that parents in lesbian or gay relationships are allowed to adopt each other’s children or a newborn child from a surrogate mother. In three separate rulings in March, the Rome Juvenile Court said it interprets the existing law on adoption in such a way that it should take into consideration social emergencies that urge recognition of new forms of parenthood. The court also urged the legislature to adopt more proactive adoption legislation, accommodating new family models.

“Italian politicians should ensure that the best interests of children are the primary consideration in all adoption proceedings,” Dittrich said. “Lawmakers should revise Italy’s adoption legislation to allow unmarried couples in a civil union, irrespective of their gender, and individuals, to adopt children and to also allow stepchild adoption.”

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