Lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender (LGBT) rights in Italy have changed significantly over the course of the last years, although LGBT persons may still face some legal challenges not experienced by non-LGBT residents. Despite this, Italy is considered a gay-friendly country and public opinion on homosexuality is generally regarded as increasingly culturally liberal, although LGBT people in Italy still face cases of homophobia. Same-sex civil unions and unregistered cohabitation have been legally recognized since June 2016.
In Italy, both male and female same-sex sexual activity have been legal since 1890, when a new Penal Code was promulgated. A civil unions law passed in May 2016, providing same-sex couples with many of the rights of marriage. Stepchild adoption was, however, excluded from the bill, and it is currently a matter of judicial debate. The same law provides both same-sex and heterosexual couples which live in an unregistered cohabitation with several legal rights. In 2017, the Italian Supreme Court allowed a marriage between two women to be officially recognised.
Transgender people have been allowed to legally change their gender since 1982. Although discrimination regarding sexual orientation in employment has been banned since 2003, no other anti-discrimination laws regarding sexual orientation or gender identity and expression have been enacted nationwide; though some Italian regions have enacted more comprehensive anti-discrimination laws. In February 2016, days after the Senate approved the civil union bill, a new poll showed again a large majority in favour of civil unions (69%), a majority for same-sex marriage (56%), but only a minority approving stepchild adoption and LGBT parenting (37%).
Italian unification in 1861 brought together a number of States which had all (with the exception of two) abolished punishment for private, non-commercial and homosexual acts between consenting adults as a result of the Napoleonic Code. One of the two exceptions had been the Kingdom of Sardinia which punished homosexual acts between men (although not women) under articles 420–425 of the Penal Code promulgated in 1859 by Victor Emmanuel II. With unification, the former Kingdom of Sardinia extended its own criminalizing legislation to the rest of the newly born Kingdom of Italy. However, this legislation did not apply to the former Kingdom of the Two Sicilies, taking into account the "particular characteristics of those that lived in the south".
This bizarre situation, where homosexuality was illegal in one part of the kingdom, but legal in another, was only reconciled in 1889, with the promulgation of the Zanardelli Code which abolished all differences in treatment between homosexual and heterosexual relations across the entire territory of Italy.
Since the introduction of the first Penal Code in 1889, effective in 1890, there have been no laws against private, adult and consensual homosexual relations. This situation remained in place despite the fascist promulgation of 19 October 1930 of the Rocco Code. This wanted to avoid discussion of the issue completely, in order to avoid creating public scandal. Repression was a matter for the Catholic Church, and not the Italian State. In any case, it claimed, that most Italians were not interested in an issue only practised by less "healthy" and less "virile" foreigners. This did not, however, prevent the fascist authorities from targeting male homosexual behaviour with administrative punishment, such as public admonition and confinement; and gays were persecuted in the later years of the regime of Benito Mussolini, and under the Italian Social Republic of 1943–45.
The arrangements of the Rocco Code have remained in place over subsequent decades. Namely the principle that homosexual conduct is an issue of morality and religion, and not criminal sanctions by the State. However, during the post-war period, there have been at least three attempts to re-criminalise it. And such attitudes have made it difficult to bring discussion of measures, for example to recognise homosexual relationships, to the parliamentary sphere.
Legality of same-sex sexual activity
Same-sex sexual activity has been legal since 1890. The age of consent is 14 years old, regardless of gender and sexual orientation.
At present, same-sex couples cannot marry in Italy. Civil unions, which provide several of the rights, benefits and obligations of marriage, were enacted in 2016. These benefits include, amongst others, shared property, social security and inheritance.
Despite the fact that several bills on civil unions or the recognition of rights to unregistered couples had been introduced into the Parliament in the twenty years prior to 2016, none had been approved owing to the strong opposition from the social conservative members of Parliament belonging to both coalitions. On 8 February 2007, the Government led by Romano Prodi introduced a bill, which would have granted rights in areas of labour law, inheritance, taxation and health care to same-sex and opposite-sex unregistered partnerships. The bill was never made a priority of Parliament and was eventually dropped when a new parliament was elected after the Prodi Government lost a confidence vote.
In 2010, the Constitutional Court (Corte Costituzionale) issued a landmark ruling which recognized same-sex couples as a "legitimate social formation, similar to and deserving homogeneous treatment as marriage". Since that ruling, the Corte di Cassazione (the last revision court for some issues such as commercial issues or immigration issues) remanded a decision by a Justice of the Peace who had rejected a residence permit to an Algerian citizen, married in Spain to a Spaniard of the same sex. After that, this same judiciary stated that the questura (police office, where residence permits are issued) should deliver a residence permit to a foreigner married with an Italian citizen of his same sex, and cited the ruling.
On 2 February 2016, Italian senators started to debate a same-sex civil unions bill. On 25 February 2016, the bill was approved by the Senate in a 173–71 vote. The bill was then sent to the Chamber of Deputies where it passed on 11 May 2016, with 372 voting in favour, compared to 51 against and 99 abstaining. In order to ensure swift passage of the bill, Prime Minister Matteo Renzi had earlier declared it a confidence vote saying it was "unacceptable to have any more delays after years of failed attempts." The civil unions law provides same-sex couples with all the rights of marriage (while not allowing same-sex marriage), however, provisions allowing for stepchild or joint adoption were stricken from an earlier version of the bill. Italian President Sergio Mattarella signed the bill into law on 20 May 2016. It took effect on 5 June 2016.
In 2017, the Italian Supreme Court allowed a marriage between two women, which was performed in neighboring France, to be officially recognised. However, in May 2018, the Court of Cassation ruled that same-sex marriages performed abroad cannot be recognized in Italy. Instead, they must be registered as civil unions, regardless of whether the couple wed before or after Italy introduced civil unions in 2016.
Adoption and parenting
Adoption and foster care are regulated by the Legge 184/1983. Adoption is in principle permitted only to married couples who must be of the opposite sex. Indeed, according to Italian law, there are no restrictions on foster care. In a limited number of situations, the law provides for "adoption in particular cases" by a single person, however, and this has been interpreted by some courts, including on appeal court level, to include the possibility of stepchild adoption for unmarried (opposite-sex and same-sex) couples.
On 11 January 2013, the Court of Cassation upheld a lower decision of court which granted the sole custody of a child to a lesbian mother. The father of the child complained about the "homosexual relationship of the mother". The Supreme Court rejected the father's appeal because it was not argued properly.
Several individual cases where same-sex couples have been allowed to legally adopt or foster children have occurred over the years. On 15 November 2013, it was reported that the Court of Bologna chose a same-sex couple to foster a 3-year-old child. On 1 March 2016, a Rome family court approved a lesbian couple's request to simultaneously adopt each other's daughters. From 2014 to 2016, the Rome Family Court made at least 15 rulings upholding requests for gay people to be allowed to adopt their partners' children. On 29 April 2016, Marilena Grassadonia, president of the Rainbow Families Association, won the right to adopt her wife's twin boys. The possibility of stepchild adoption was confirmed by the Court of Cassation in a decision published on 22 June 2016.
In February 2017, the Trento Court of Appeals recognized both male same-sex partners as dads of two children born with the help of an egg donor and a surrogate mother in Canada. The decision was challenged ln late 2017 by local officials and the Ministry of the Interior. In May 2019, the Court of Cassation ruled that the fathers cannot both be named on the children's Italian birth certificates. Instead, only the biological father will be listed as their legal parent, while his partner will have to apply for special permission to become their adoptive father, despite the fact that both men are named on the children's Canadian birth certificates.
In March 2017, the Florence Court for Minors recognised a foreign adoption by a same-sex couple. The Milan Court of Appeal also recognised a foreign same-sex adoption in June 2017.
In January 2018, after a surrogate mother gave birth to twin boys for a same-sex couple in California, Milan officials refused to register the boys as both the fathers' children. At first, a judge ruled against the couple, who later appealed; a higher court held that since each man's sperm was used to fertilise eggs from the same donor and one of each was implanted into the surrogate, both men would be able to register the birth of their own child and become its legal parent. The twins cannot be recognised as children of the couple, however, and the fathers could not adopt each other's non-biological son. Although not legally brothers, both boys have been given the same surname. Despite this contradiction, LGBT association Famiglie Arcobaleno, has welcomed the court's decision as a "positive step".
In April 2018, a lesbian couple in Turin was permitted by city officials to register their son, born through IVF, as the child of both parents. Two other same-sex couples also had their children officially registered. A few days later, a same-sex couple in Rome was similarly allowed to register their daughter.
On 2 June 2018, the day after becoming the new Family and the Disabled Minister, Lorenzo Fontana said same-sex families "don't exist". He denied making homophobic comments, saying he was not "against gays", and adding "I have many homosexual friends… after all I lived in Brussels for many years where there are many gay people in powerful positions... I am Catholic, I do not hide it. And that's why I believe that the family is the natural one, where a child must have a mother and a father". This led to protests from LGBT activists, who used the hashtag #NoiEsistiamo (#WeExist) on social media to share photos of their same-sex families.
Since July 2003, discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation in employment has been illegal throughout the whole country, in conformity with European Union directives. The Implementation of Directive 2000/78/EC on equal treatment in employment and occupation (Italian: Attuazione della direttiva 2000/78/CE per la parità di trattamento in materia di occupazione e di condizioni di lavoro) prohibits unfair discrimination in employment and recruitment processes. One of the most famous convictions under the directive was that of lawyer Carlo Taormina, who in July 2013 during a radio interview declared that he would never hire a gay man in his law firm. The Tribunal of Bergamo condemned Taormina to a payment of 10,000 euros and ordered the publication of the ruling on a national newspaper at his expense.
In 2006, Grillini again introduced a proposal to expand anti-discrimination laws, this time adding gender identity as well as sexual orientation. It received less support than the previous one had.
In 2008, Danilo Giuffrida was awarded 100,000 euros compensation after having been ordered to re-take his driving test by the Italian Ministry of Infrastructure and Transport due to his sexuality; the judge said that the Ministry of Transport was in clear breach of anti-discrimination laws.
On 16 May 2013, a bill which would prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity was presented in a press conference by four deputies of four different parties. The bill is cosponsored by 221 MPs of the Chamber of Deputies, but no member of the center-right parties has pledged support. In addition to this bill, some deputies introduced another two bills. On 7 July, the Justice Committee advanced a unified bill.
The bill was amended in compliance of the request of some conservative MPs who feard to be fined or jailed for stating their opposition to the recognition of same-sex unions. On 5 August, the House started to consider the bill. On 19 September 2013, the House of Deputies passed the bill in a 228–58 vote (and 108 abstentions). On the same day, a controversial amendment passed, which would protect free speech for politicians and clergymen. On 29 April 2014, the Senate began examining the bill. As of 2019, the bill is still in the Senate Judicial Commission, being blocked by several hundred amendments from conservative MPs.
In 2004, Tuscany became the first Italian region to ban discrimination against homosexuals in the areas of employment, education, public services and accommodations. The Berlusconi Government challenged the new law in court, asserting that only the central Government had the right to pass such a law. The Constitutional Court overturned the provisions regarding accommodations (with respect to private homes and religious institutions), but otherwise upheld most of the legislation. Since then, the region of Piedmont has also enacted a similar measure.Sicily and Umbria followed suit in March 2015 and April 2017, respectively.
Gender identity and expression
Cross dressing is legal in Italy, and sex reassignment surgeries are also legal, with medical approval. However, gender identity is not mentioned in Italy's anti-discrimination law, meaning that transgender people may face discrimination in areas such as employment, access to goods and services, housing, education and health services.
In 1982, Italy became the third nation in the world to recognise the right to change one's legal gender. Before Italy, only Sweden (1972) and Germany (then-West Germany) (1980) recognised this right.
In 2006, a police officer was reportedly fired for cross-dressing in public while off duty.
In 2005, a couple got legally married as husband and wife. Some years later, one of the parties transitioned as a transgender woman. In 2009, she was legally recognized as such according to the Italian law on transsexualism (Legge 14 aprile 1982, n. 164). Later, the couple discovered that their marriage had been dissolved because the couple became a same-sex couple, even though they did not ask a civil court to divorce. The law prescribes that when a transsexual person is married to another person the couple should divorce, but in the case of the transgender woman mentioned above (Alessandra) and her wife, there was no will to divorce. The couple asked the Civil Court of Modena to nullify the order of dissolution of their marriage. On 27 October 2010, the court ruled in favour of the couple. The Italian Ministry of Interior appealed the decision, and the Court of Appeal of Bologna subsequently reversed the trial decision. The couple later appealed the decision to the Court of Cassation. On 6 June 2013, the Cassation asked the Constitutional Court whether the 1982 law was unconstitutional when it ordered the dissolution of marriage by applying the Legge 1 dicembre 1970, n. 898, which regulates divorces, even if the couple did not ask to do so. In 2014, the Constitutional Court finally ruled the case in favour of the couple, allowing them to remain married.
In 2007, an advert showing a baby wearing a wristband label that said "homosexual" caused controversy. The advert was part of a regional government campaign to combat anti-gay discrimination.
On 8 June 2019, the 25th edition of Roma Pride was held, with the participation of 700,000 people.
According to data from the 2010 Italy Eurispes report released 29 January, the percentage of Italians who have a positive attitude towards homosexuality and are in favor of legal recognition of gay and lesbian couples is growing.
According to a 2010 poll, 82% of Italians considered homosexuals equal to heterosexuals. 41% thought that same-sex couples should have the right to marry in a civil ceremony, and 20.4% agreed with civil unions only. In total, 61.4% were in favor of a form of legal recognition for gay and lesbian couples. This was an increase of 2.5% from the previous year (58.9%) and almost 10% in 7 years (51.6% in 2003). "This is further proof that Italians are ahead of their national institutions. Our Parliament hears more and more people on the issue and what it hears is to soon approve a law that guarantees gay people the opportunity to publicly recognize their families, as is done in 20 European countries " said the national president of Arcigay, Aurelio Mancuso.
A 2013 Pew Research Center opinion survey of various countries throughout the world showed that 74% of the Italian population believed that homosexuality should be accepted by society (the 8th highest of all the countries polled), while 18% believed it should not. Young people were generally more accepting: 86% of people between 18 and 29 were accepting of gay people, while 80% of people between 30 and 49 and 67% of people over 50 held the same belief. In a 2007 version of this survey, 65% of Italians were accepting of gay people, meaning that there was a net gain of 9% from 2007 to 2013 (the 4th highest gain in acceptance of gay people of the countries surveyed).
In December 2016, a survey was conducted by the Williams Institute in collaboration with IPSOS, in 23 countries (including Italy) on their attitudes towards transgender people. The study showed a relatively liberal attitude from Italians towards transgender people. According to the study, 78% of Italians supported allowing transgender people to change their gender on their legal documents (the 4th highest percentage of the countries surveyed), with 29% supporting the idea of allowing them to do so without any surgery or doctor's/government approval (the 6th highest percentage of the countries surveyed). In addition to that, 78.5% of Italians believed that transgender people should be legally protected from discrimination, 57.7% believed that transgender people should be allowed to use the restroom corresponding to their gender identity rather than their birth sex, and only 14.9% believed that transgender people have a mental illness (the 6th lowest of the countries surveyed).
Same-sex sexual activity legal
Equal age of consent (14)
Anti-discrimination laws in employment
Anti-discrimination laws in the provision of goods and services