Will Italian Court Decision Pave Way for Marriage Equality?

Will Italian Court Decision Pave Way for Marriage Equality?

Alessandra Bernaroli, 43, has won her fight in Italy's Constitutional Court to restore the legal legitimacy of her nine-year marriage to a woman, which a local registrar unconstitutionally annulled because Bernaroli had undergone gender-affirming surgery, according to multiple media reports.  

The high court announced its ruling on Tuesday that the northern Italian City of Bologna's Registry Office overstepped its bounds by stripping away Bernaroli's and her spouse's legal status as a married couple.

According to U.K.-based Pink News, the Constitutional Court had aimed to balance “the state’s interest in not changing the model of heterosexual marriage…and the interest of the couple where one of the two components changes sex.”

As was predicted by activist and human rights advocates last year, the decision in Bernaroli's case is being characterized as a landmark ruling that could further the cause of a marriage equality in Italy, which lags far behind most countries in western Europe. The Italian ruling is in line with a European Court of Human Rights ruling last year, which determined that member countries could not require divorces when surgery made married couples legally "same-sex."

"My body may have changed, but the love between us remains the same," Bernaroli told PinkNews. "I’m acting to defend our marriage. ... I fell in love with her nearly 20 years ago when I was a man, and we love each other as much as the first day we met, despite the fact that after a long journey and many operations I became a woman. Why should the state now try to separate us?”

While 12 European countries (including Iceland) have laws ensuring marriage equality, life for transgender people on the comparatively progressive continent can still be a nightmare. Trans people in 34 European countries often face intrusive questions, and requirements that include mental illness diagnosis, proof of divorce, and proof of sterilization if they want to obtain legal documentation that reflects their authentic gender.

Italian news site ADNKronos noted that the court had a suggestion for Italy's politicians, urging them to consider creating an "alternative marital status" for same-sex couples. Pink News posited that that portion of the ruling could be a harbinger of Italian civil unions, which are currently unavailable outside of Rome. Rome recently defied federal law by creating a registry for such unions.

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