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Couple wins right to give child mother's surname

'First step in spousal equality'

07 January, 16:24
Couple wins right to give child mother's surname (By Laura Clarke) (ANSA) - Milan, January 7 - Politicians, activists and lawyers in Italy on Tuesday hailed a European Court of Human Rights ruling ordering the country to modify legislation to allow parents to give their children the mother's surname.

Under current law children born of married Italian nationals must take the father's surname, although a 2000 provision allows parents to add the mother's name as well under some circumstances.

"It is a kind of courtesy but it is not the same thing as being able to choose," said Alessandra Cusan, who filed a complaint against the Italian state with the Strasbourg court for being prevented from conferring her surname on her daughter Maddalena, born in 1999, following a lengthy battle in the Italian courts. In their ruling the judges described the Italian system as "excessively rigid and discriminatory towards women".

The sentence was welcomed by the association of Italian matrimonial lawyers (AMI), whose president Gian Ettore Gassani said "our laws still have a strongly patriarchal mould despite various reforms of family law", and urged further reform to "prevent Italy from ending up on a dead-end track compared to other Western countries and particularly in the European Union".

Deputy Senate Speaker Valeria Fedeli of the Democratic Party (PD) described Tuesday's ruling as "a first important step towards a reform of existing legislation to allow, finally, the realisation of full equality between spouses". Jole Santelli of ex-premier Silvio Berlusconi's revived centre-right Forza Italia, now in opposition, said she hoped parliament "might now at last make up its mind to renew a law that is obsolete, allowing children to receive their mother's surname". Cusan and her husband Fazzo, from Milan, took their case to the European Court of Human Rights after Italy's Constitutional Court in 2006 acknowledged that current Italian law went against the principle of gender equality but said that only parliament could change the rules. The judges in Strasbourg upheld their complaint on grounds of articles 14 and 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights respectively concerning prohibition of discrimination and right to respect for private and family life, and ordered Italy to modify its legislation as a result.

"The sentence does not have a direct bearing on our case as Italy must now legislate on the matter," said Cusan.

"But I sure hope that by the time our children are parents they will be able to make a free choice".

Italy has three months to appeal against the sentence before it becomes binding.