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Italy: Gay Couples Are Allowed to Raise Children, according to Supreme Court

Gay Pride Party 2011, Rome. Photo by the author

Rome Gay Pride Party 2011 (image taken by the author)

[All links point to resources in Italian, unless otherwise noted]

In early January 2013, Italy's Supreme Court rejected a father's appeal against the awarding, by the court of appeals in Brescia, of sole custody of his son to the child's mother who lives with another woman. The headline on ilpost.it summarises as follows the highest court decision:

Sostenere che sia dannoso per i bambini crescere in una famiglia gay è un «mero pregiudizio», privo di «certezze scientifiche o dati di esperienza».

Claiming that it's damaging for children to grow up in a gay family is “a mere prejudice”, devoid of any “scientific certainties or proven data”.

The decision on the part of the judges in Brescia was justified by the father's acts of violence against the mother's friend in the presence of the child. On pontilex.org Cagliostro explains:

L’uomo, 27 anni, aveva avuto una relazione con una donna italiana e da questo rapporto era nato un figlio. Finita la storia tra i due era stato disposto l’affidamento esclusivo del bambino alla madre mentre gli incontri con il padre si sarebbero tenuti «con cadenza almeno quindicinale in un ambiente neu­tro e inizialmente protetto».

The 27 year old man had had a relationship with an Italian woman and a child was born from this union. When the relationship ended between the two, sole custody was awarded to the mother while meetings with the father were to be held “fortnightly in a neutral environment and initially under supervision”.

A lively debate was sparked, which was also prompted by Obama's second inauguration speech as US President, who declared, among other things, that:

Il nostro viaggio verso la libertà non potrà dirsi completo fin quando i nostri fratelli e le nostre sorelle omosessuali non saranno trattati come tutti davanti alla legge: se è vero che tutti siamo creati uguali, allora l’amore tra ciascuno di noi dev’essere trattato allo stesso modo.

Our journey is not complete until our gay brothers and sisters are treated like anyone else under the law, for if we are truly created equal, then surely the love we commit to one another must be equal as well.

There have been demonstrations for and against the government's plan to legalise gay marriage and adoption in France. Campaigners for LGBT rights have expressed their satisfaction while more conservative sectors of society insist they are “less enthusiastic”.

Rita De Santis, President of Agedo [Association of parents of homosexuals] declared on diregiovani.it that the decision of the Italian Supreme Court was:

“Una bella notizia certamente. Negli ultimi tempi abbiamo sentito, tra gli altri, anche il Papa dirsi contrario. Per allevare un figlio ci vuole quella che chiamiamo genitorialità che non è da confondere con un qualcosa di genetico. Ci sono etero che non sono in grado di averla, ci sono coppie che ammazzano o che abbandonano figli.

…. I bimbi che crescono in coppie omogenitoriali, spesso trovano ambiente sociale ostile, se ne parla in modo discriminatorio. L'omosessualità non è una malattia o un vizio o una scelta”.

[...] good news without a doubt. Of late we have heard the Pope, among others, saying the opposite. Raising a child requires what's termed genitorialità [parenting skills], which should not be taken for something genetic. There are heterosexuals who are unable to have children, there are couples that kill or abandon their children.

…Children who grow up in LGBT families often face a hostile society, it [the gay family] is spoken of in a discriminatory way. Homosexuality is not a disease, nor a vice nor a choice.

The opinion of psychologist Anna Oliverio Ferraris, a lecturer in developmental psychology at Rome's La Sapienza University, is quoted in an article on La Voce d'Italia:

“In assoluto non è un problema” che un figlio cresca con una coppia omosessuale, “ma possono esserci grosse differenze da caso a caso, come peraltro per le coppie eterosessuali. Più che dare principi generali, occorre verificare se le coppie sono all’altezza di tenere i figli, quindi bisogna vedere la preparazione dei genitori”.

“Overall, it's not problematic” for a child to be raised by a homosexual couple, “but it can vary a great deal from case to case, as it does for heterosexual couples. Rather than issuing universal judgments, what matters is that couples are fit to have children, so people's readiness for parenthood needs to be looked at”.

User comments abound online, including many on the newspaper Corriere della Sera‘s blog, where user lettorequalunque00 notes, not without a certain amount of irony:

Il mondo è pieno di famiglie etero che hanno prodotto individui problematici, traumatizzati da un'infanzia infelice e da genitori assenti ed incapaci di trasmettere affetto. Poi, chi afferma che le coppie gay sono più violente o che addirittura i bimbi potrebbero subire violenze sessuali non si rende conto di quanto sia divertente… La cronaca parla soltanto di uomini violenti con le loro compagne e con i loro figli. Ieri si è parlato del padre di due bimbe, arrestato per violenza sessuale. Ma la sua era una famiglia etero, quindi automaticamente sana, composta da persone sane… È a dir poco ridicolo.

The world is full of heterosexual families who have produced troubled individuals, traumatised by an unhappy childhood and by absent parents who were incapable of showing affection. And as for those who claim that gay couples are more prone to violence or even that [their] children might experience sexual abuse, they don't realise how laughable they are…The news is full of men who are violent with their [female] partners and children. Yesterday, there were reports of a father of two children who was arrested for sexual abuse. But his family was a heterosexual one and, therefore, had to be a healthy one, made up of healthy individuals…It's ridiculous  to say the least.

Certi Diritti [Certain Rights], an association linked to the Radical Party, pointed out that this is not a new position for the national justice system to take and, on the sentence itself, adds:

È molto importante che vi sia stato un riconoscimento da parte della Corte di Cassazione. Ora vedremo come i Tribunali applicheranno questa sentenza. Ma soprattutto chiediamo ai candidati al prossimo parlamento di prendere nota di questa sentenza, e di agire di conseguenza, facendo sì che Camera e Senato la smettano di non guardare alla realtà dei fatti e comincino invece a operare solo (!) sulla base della stessa.

It's very important that there has been this acknowledgement on the part of the Court of Cassation. It remains to be seen how the courts will apply the judgement. But, above all else, we would ask the candidates for the forthcoming election to make note of this judgement and to behave accordingly, making sure that the parliament and the Senate stop avoiding the facts and start acting only (!) on the basis of these same facts.

Apart from the Pope, who has made several speeches on the topic since the debate got underway in France, several other representatives of the Catholic Church have commented, including Monsignor Vincenzo Paglia, president of the Pontifical Council for the Family, and Domenico Sigalini, bishop of Palestrina and president of Italian Episcopal Commission on the Laity. Gayburg.blogspot.it reproduced the latter's comment on the issue:

Non si può costruire una civiltà attraverso le sentenze dei tribunali… Non può essere la legge a stabilire quale sia il rapporto migliore con i genitori. Né tocca a un tribunale stabilire quale sia la situazione ottimale per un bambino.

You can not construct a society through a court's judgments…It cannot be up to the law to determine what is the best relationship with the parents [to have]. Nor is it up to a court to determine what the best situation for a child is.

Responding to the prelate's comments, Nefrite writes on the Corriere della Sera blog:

Le uniche sentenze su cui costruire una civiltà sono evidentemente solo quelle della Sacra Rota, che decidono dell'inesistenza di un matrimonio da cui magari sono nati quattro figli…magari per uno dei cosiddetti “impedimenti dirimenti”, resi celebri ne I promessi sposi da Don Abbondio.

 Obviously the only judgments on which to found a society are those issued by the Sacred Roman Rota [en], in which a marriage, which had produced four children, was declared nonexistent…due, perhaps, to one of the diriment impediments [impediments which invalidate an attempted marriage under canon law] made famous by Don Abbondio in [Alessandro Manzoni's novel] The Betrothed [en].

Those who disapprove of the judgement claim to be concerned about the well-being of the child but fail to offer, however, any concrete proof to support their point of view. The portal linkiesta.it published a post by Monica Piccini describing a video in which children raised in LGBT families talk about their experiences:

…. i figli under 18 delle Famiglie Arcobaleno hanno detto la loro in un film documentario Il Lupo in calzoncini corti delle filmaker Lucia Stano e Nadia Dalle Vedove. Due anni di riprese in compagnia di due famiglie miste per riprenderne la quotidianità, eccezionale e insieme ordinaria. «Come ci si senta con un papà – spiega Federico, 10 anni e due mamme – non lo posso sapere. Stando bene così non m’interessa come si sta in un altro modo».

…the children, all under 18, of the Famiglie Arcobaleno [Rainbow Families] have their say in the documentary Il Lupo in calzoncini corti [The Wolf in shorts] by film-makers Lucia Stano and Nadia Dalle Vedove. They spent two years filming the extraordinary and, at the same time, very ordinary, day to day existence of two blended families. “I will never know”, says 10 year old Federico who has two mothers, “what it feels like to have a dad. Things work well like this and I don't want to live in any other way”.

Dario De Gregorio, describes his experience of LGBT parenting on ildialogo.org blog:

In cosa differisce la nostra vita da quella di una qualsiasi coppia di genitori eterosessuali? Direi in pochissimo. E sicuramente non nella gestione quotidiana della nostra vita familiare che è fatta di pappe e cacche, tappe da percorrere, scoperte continue, gioie quotidiane. Forse la reale differenza (e credo possa essere un vantaggio) sta proprio nella nostra uguaglianza nella gestione della bambina: non c’è uno che ha partorito ed allattato e l’altro che è tornato al lavoro subito dopo. Io ed Andrea abbiamo sin dall'inizio vissuto in maniera paritaria quest'avventura condividendo allattamenti (artificiali…), veglie notturne, scoperte quotidiane. Ciascuno di noi con le proprie sensibilità e le proprie modalità, ma accomunati da questa meravigliosa esperienza.

How does our life differ from that of parents who are in a heterosexual couple? Not a lot, I would say. And certainly not in the everyday organisation of our family life which revolves around feeds and nappies, stages to be reached, constant discoveries and daily joys. Perhaps the real difference (and I believe it can be an advantage) lies in our equality in terms of raising our child. One of us didn't give birth and then breastfeed her while the other one went straight back to work. Andrea and I have, since the beginning, shared equally in this adventure, sharing (bottle) feeds, nighttime awakenings, daily discoveries. Each of us has our own concerns and ways of going about things, but we have been united by this amazing experience.

Photo by the authorIt is difficult to find statistics on the number of children living in this kind of family. The number of countries which have already introduced legislation to allow for gay marriage and adoption [en] is on the increase. And, when it comes to family life, the problems which arise in homosexual families do not seem to be any different to those experienced by heterosexual ones. On several occasions the European Court of Human Rights has also condemned European countries which discriminate against LGBT people.

What is sure is that an individual does not choose to be born black, white, yellow, red, male, female, heterosexual or homosexual.

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