Italy's interior minister, Angelino Alfano, has said that people who use surrogacy should be treated as sex offenders and sent to prison, in the face of Italian prime minister Matteo Renzi's attempts to grant family rights to same-sex couples.
Alfano, who made the comments while speaking to Italy's Roman Catholic Avvenire newspaper, has argued the legislation will give rise to gay couples seeking children via surrogate mothers. He was reported saying: 'We want wombs-for-rent to become a universal crime, which is punished with a jail term, just as happens for sex crimes.'
Centre-left prime minister Renzi had promised the introduction of greater family rights, including the right for same-sex couples to adopt stepchildren in certain circumstances.
'Stepchild [adoption] really risks bringing the country closer to wombs-for-rent, towards the most vile, illegal trade that man has invented,' said Alfano. He added: 'If Italy has a law that allows stepchild adoption for gay couples, the day after we will start a huge collection of signatures for a repeal referendum. And I will be first in line.'
Alfano is the leader of Nuovo Centrodestra, the new centre-right party in Italy, which claims that any form of surrogacy represents a subversion of traditional family values.
Making or advertising surrogacy arrangements is currently is illegal in Italy and doing so is punishable by up to two years imprisonment as well as by hefty fines. Many same-sex couples therefore travel abroad in order to use surrogates. However, only one of the parents can currently be awarded with legal parental status when they eventually come to register their child in Italy, which is why many are calling for the prime minister's reforms.
Pressure to modernise its laws has also come from the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR), which in 2015 ordered Italy to pay compensation for removing a baby born to a surrogate mother in Russia from a couple who had moved to Italy.
Other aspects of Italy's law on assisted conception have been struck down both by its national courts and by the ECtHR. In April 2015, Italy's constitutional court declared a ban on using donated gametes in fertility treatment was unconstitutional (reported in BioNews 750) and in 2012 a ban on screening embryos using PGD for cystic fibrosis was held to be in violation of Article 8 by the ECtHR (reported in BioNews 671).
Italy is the only large western European country that does not recognise either marriage or civil partnerships between gay couples.
The bill is due to return to the Italian Parliament on 26 January 2016.