Queer Kinship Before Marriage: Narratives, Strategies and Struggles of LGBT Parents in Italy

In the context of Southern Europe, Italy represents a peculiar situation in relation to the legal recognition of non-heterosexual relational claims. Public and political discourses are occupied by a notion of the natural family fostered by Catholic Ideology and defended by political parties across the spectrum. The centrality of the family and family matters are profoundly conservative cultural constructs that came to represent an internationally renowned trait of Italian culture.  The centrality of the family has been incorporated into the Italian welfare regime which is infused with ‘familialism’, where access to services and support, predicated on legally recognized kinship relationships can be restricted to those who are part of care and support networks that are not legally recognized as family.

Despite the continuous warnings of the European Union and the pressure of many groups and LGBT rights advocates, subsequent governments since the early 2000s routinely failed to approve a law recognizing same-sex unions. On February 2016 the Italian Senate approved the Cirinnà bill by an overwhelming majority. The bill has been defined by some a milestone in the legal recognition of LGB couples in Italy. While others define it as a watered down recognition of rights, generated by the compromises within the different groups of the government majority. In its original version the bill aimed at legally recognizing forms of cohabitation including same-sex couples and stepchild adoption. However, right before the vote on February 26th, the provision on stepchild adoption was stripped from the bill allegedly as a move to gain a solid majority and grant its full approval. Within this scenario, LGBT individuals routinely negotiate the absence of legal recognition of their family, a task that becomes particularly costly in relation to parenting, since social parents are legally and socially invisible.

Drawing on 30 in-depth interviews carried out with 30 gay, lesbian and queer people aged 20 to 60 in 5 urban centers in Italy as a part of the European comparative project Families and Societies, this paper analyses how respondents account for their experiences of parenting in the light of the absence of law. Following Butler’s (2010) notion of recognizability, these experiences are investigated in relation to the tensions that characterize contemporary Italy.

Does the absence of norms is conducive to opening a space for queering the family heteronormative ideal? Or, on the contrary, this void forces gay and lesbian couples to perform the heteronormative script in order to fully access citizenship rights? What symbolic and material costs have to be paid in this claim for recognition?