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Italian lawmakers began deliberating Wednesday a bill to toughen a ban on surrogacy to make it illegal to seek it abroad, sparking criticism the government was targeting LGBTQ rights.

If passed, the bill proposed by a member of Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni’s far-right Brothers of Italy party would make Italians who seek surrogacy in other countries liable for prosecution on their return home.

Currently, Italian law stipulates that anyone who “carries out, organizes or publicizes” surrogacy in Italy faces three months to two years in jail and a fine ranging from 600,000 euros ($664,000) to one million euros.

Media reports suggest the vast majority of people seeking surrogacy abroad are heterosexual couples who cannot have children themselves.

However, the new proposal has sparked alarm among LGBTQ activists who have warned since Meloni took office in October that her emphasis on traditional, Catholic family values risks eroding civil rights.

On Wednesday, as the bill was debated in the lower house of parliament, Brothers of Italy deputy group leader Elisabetta Gardini scoffed at the opposition’s criticism.

She called surrogacy — in which a woman carries to term a pregnancy on behalf of others — “uterus for rent” that “outrages the dignity of women and tramples on the rights of children.”

Another party member in March defined surrogacy as a crime “even more serious than pedophilia”.

  • ‘State homophobia’ –

Ahead of the debate, a few hundred people gathered Tuesday evening in front of Rome’s Pantheon to protest the bill, many waving rainbow flags.

Among them was Mario Colamarino, 32, a gay man who said he would one day like to have his own children, who called the anti-surrogacy bill “a pretext, a state homophobia against us”.

“Instead of dealing with the climate… fires, serious problems, gas prices, the government sees fit to deal with these things, an issue that concerns few people,” he told AFP.

Fabrizio LaPaglia, 60, a gay man with children from an earlier marriage with a woman, said he was at the protest to support all those seeking the right to surrogacy, whether homosexual or straight.

“This government is strongly supported by pro-life associations, they are fundamentalists who want to make decisions about a woman’s body and the LGBT community,” LaPaglia said.

  • Legal limbo –

Until now, Italians who can afford it have been able to travel to countries where surrogacy is allowed, such as the United States or Canada.

But the issue is part of a wider unsolved problem in Italy, which lacks a law to recognize the children of same-sex couples. That leaves them in legal limbo with only the biological parent registered on their birth certificates, forcing the other to embark on the lengthy and costly process of adoption.

In absence of clear policy, some cities, including Milan, Turin and Padua, had been registering the children of same-sex couples conceived overseas through surrogacy.

But an interior ministry directive in March instructed municipalities to stop, and some parents’ names have since been eliminated from city registers, creating a series of bureaucratic problems for the excluded parent.

They include not being allowed to pick up their child from school without a note from the registered parent, or not being allowed to accompany them on planes.

There are questions as to the legality of extending Italy’s ban to surrogacy abroad.

“The text of this bill was good perhaps for a pure propaganda tweet,” said deputy Valentina D’Orso of the opposition Five Star Movement, dismissing it as “unconstitutional”.

Civil unions have been allowed in Italy since 2016 but same-sex couples cannot marry, or adopt.

Medically assisted reproduction — in which a donated egg or sperm is used — is legal for heterosexual couples but not for same-sex couples or single women.

©️ Agence France-Presse

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