After much travail a new coalition government in Italy was sworn in on June 1st. The two new parties that garnered the most votes will rule in a coalition that also includes a few nonparty members. The new Prime Minister is Giuseppe Conte, a law professor from the University of Florence who, while not a politician, has much experience in administrative law. The two principal party leaders, Luigi Di Maio of the Five Star Movement and Matteo Salvini of the (Northern) League—unable to agree on who would be Prime Minister—will each be Vice Prime Ministers with an additional portfolio: Di Maio will be Minister of Labor and Salvini Minister of Internal Affairs. In Parliament, the new government received an overwhelming approval of 60 percent of votes cast.
This government includes a new post: Minister for the Family and Disabilities. He is Lorenzo Fontana, a member of the League from Verona who is pro-family and pro-life—he marched in Rome’s annual March for Life on May 19th under the banner of abolishing Italy’s law 194/78, which legalized abortion (“the first cause of feminicide in the world.”) He is also against gay marriage. Thirty-eight years old and a Catholic, Fontana, who is married with one daughter, has a degree in political science, was a member of the legislature, and then Vice Mayor in his native Verona, as well as a member of the European Parliament. He is keenly interested in demographics, recently co-authoring a book, “The Empty Cradle of Civilization: The Origins of the Crisis” (La Culla Vuota della Civiltà—All’origine della crisi, 2018), in which he laments past policies that have adversely affected families and children.
In an interview some time ago on family matters and gay unions, Fontana stated that “The natural family is under attack.” Gender theory, gay marriage, and massive inflows of illegal immigrants “are all linked together and interdependent . . . they all aim to eradicate our community and our culture. The risk is the complete eradication of our people.” Fontana has also expressed concern not only about the influx of immigrants but also the emigration of young educated Italians unable to find work at home due to necessary labor and economic reforms which previous governments have failed to enact.
Given the novelty of an openly pro-family, pro-life cabinet member anywhere, especially in Europe, Lorenzo Fontana was quickly sought out by the press. In four interviews he gave the first day on the job, he advocated for fewer abortions and more births. He made the point that women contemplating abortion should be offered counseling while families should be given incentives to have more children. To assist families that wanted more children he suggested increasing family allowances (assegni familiari), reducing the value-added tax on products necessary for newborn care, and introducing a flat tax for families with at least three children. He reiterated in the interviews that the only family is the natural family.
Fontana’s most controversial remark was that “rainbow families don’t exist!” (“Rainbow families” is the Italian term applied to gay couples). Italy has no law allowing “gay marriage” but does permit civil unions—courtesy of the previous center-left government.1 Most EU countries permit “gay marriage.”
Fontana’s interviews sparked several comments from left and right. The Italian left, anxious to be considered part of the EU secular mainstream, heaped a heavy dose of abusive criticism on the government as a whole and on the Family Minister in particular.
The gay community, known as Arcigay in Italy, was quick to respond, indicating that Fontana’s remarks seemed to have come from 50 years ago. They asked the government to reinstate the Ministry of Equal Opportunities that formed part of the previous government. The successful sponsor of the civil union legislation, Senator Monica Cirinnà, said it was very serious for a government minister “to deny the reality” of gay unions. Another left-wing politico spoke about a return to the “middle ages.”
Despite such comments, Fontana reminded one and all that Article 29 of the Italian constitution says that: “The Republic recognizes the rights of the family as a natural society founded on marriage.”
Perhaps a valid point was made by right-wing Senator Maurizio Gasparri, who agreed with Fontana’s views, remarking that “Evidently it must bother some people if one is Catholic!”
Meanwhile Vice Premier Matteo Salvini commented that Fontana was free to say what he wished but that his ideas were not a priority because they were not part of the government’s contract—the agenda drawn up by the two coalition parties prior to formation of the new government.
In response to the abuse he received, Fontana sent a letter to the editor of Il Tempo, one of the few independent newspapers in Italy, which bore the heading: “The hatred of the élite does not frighten me.” It was full of sane comments such as these:
We affirmed things that we thought were perfectly normal, even given for granted: that for a country to grow it must have children, that a mother is called mother (and not parent number 1), that a father is called father (and not parent number 2). We said the last and the only word on children’s education, growth and care belong to the mother and the father, a sacrosanct principle of freedom. The reaction—from some quarters that fly under the banner of relativism—has been extremely violent. It started with a fierce volley of insults, offenses, even personal ones, and threats (that will be brought to the attention of the relevant authorities).
Fontana also expressed gratitude for his many supporters and went on to draw inspiration from history, quoting Saint Pius X: “They will call you papists, retrogrades, hardliners, clericalists: be proud of it all.”
Finally, Fontana gave tribute to Il Tempo for its courage to express countercurrent views. Perhaps with a touch of exhaustion, Fontana concluded his letter: “Never until now has it become a heroic act to stand up for what is merely normal.”
1Civil unions are allowed in Austria, Croatia, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Italy, and Switzerland as well as in Northern Ireland.