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Stepchild adoption risks falling victim of political jostling around Italy’s civil unions bill

by Manuela Perrone

On Wednesday, the Senate will start to vote the amendments to the bill that introduces same-sex civil unions. But the waters of Italian politics remain choppy.

All eyes are on whether Prime Minister Matteo Renzi’s governing majority will have enough votes: it's true that the bill passed the constitutionality test with flying colors on February 2, with a margin of around 80 votes on 161 necessary, but the balance is fragile and ambushes cannot be ruled out.

Also because the most sensitive issues, like the stepchild adoption (the possibility to adopt the child of a partner, based on precise terms established by the law on adoptions), will go to a secret ballot.

There is little certainty at the moment. After a new meeting at between Renzi, the Reforms Minister Maria Elena Boschi and the leaders of the House and Senate, the Democratic Party has confirmed it intends to keep the proposals, without giving in to the center-right partner of the government the AP-NCD, led by Interior Minister Angelino Alfano, who promises to support the bill only if article 5 on adoptions is removed.

Their support however is not solid, since some senators from AP-NCD, like Maurizio Sacconi and Nico D'Ascola, criticize the “juxtaposition of civil unions and marriage,” which is at the heart of the legislation.

Prime Minister Renzi certainly does not fear the threat of two senators from UDC, another centre-right party, of quitting the majority if the bill is approved without taking out the part on adoptions.

The PD could rely on the votes of SEL,and on some members of the so-called “mixed-group” of MPs, on the 15 to 19 senators led by Denis Verdini and especially from the Five Star Movement which, despite being in the opposition, up until a few days ago has said it shares the proposal and granted their support if the bill is not watered down.

Five start Movement leader Beppe Grillo said on Saturday, however, that his senators could vote according to their conscience on the subject of stepchild adoption. This decision by the party leadership has inflamed the base of the movement, which has flooded social networks with accusations of inconsistency.

Tomorrow a meeting requested by the Five Star members of parliament should confirm the numbers and no defections are expected: minus two women on maternity leave, for now it looks like 29-30 Five Star senators will vote yes, even adoption.

The amendments that the Democratic Party is finalizing aim at correcting mistakes and inconsistencies. Including several references to the Civil Law for marriage, without touching the key parts, including the stepchild adoption, which would be “softened” by simply eliminating any automatic measure and by assigning any final decision to juvenile judges, as asked by the first signatory of the bill, Monica Cirinnà.

Such changes are not enough for some of the Catholic members of the party (although not all of them, because the Catholic PD senators are divided), who are still convinced that the adoption should be replaced with custody, to prevent the phenomenon of surrogate maternity, which they consider unacceptable.

The test of the floor will be crucial. The hurdle of stonewalling seems to have been resolved (party leaders in the Senate have agreed to slash the 5,000 amendments filed, 4,500 of which by the Northern League alone).

But tension still runs high. Fifty senators have appealed to the Constitutional Court against Senate President Pietro Grasso in a motion brought by former NCD members Gaetano Quagliariello, Carlo Giovanardi and Andrea Augello: in their view, Grasso allowed violations to the legislative process by not allowing the bill to be discussed in commission.

Grasso dismissed them as “qibblers,” after an unscrupulous lawyer depicted in Alessandro Manzoni’s historical novel “The Betrothed.”

On Friday, the Council of Europe spoke up again. Human Rights Commissioner Nils Miuznieks urged the Italian Parliament to approve civil unions, adoptions included, because by extending to same-sex couples the same rights and responsibilities of heterosexual couples Italy “does not create new rights but eliminates the discrimination based on sexual orientation.”

His call is not enough to persuade critics in Parliament and in the country, like recent street demonstrations for “Family Day” have shown. But it has a certain weight.

But even if Article 5 on stepchild adoption fails in the secret ballot, the other parts of the bill can pass. And this for Renzi would be a victory.