8 Jan 2014

Italy told to change law over surnames

4:28 pm on 8 January 2014

The European Court of Human Rights has ruled against Italy in its long battle to maintain a family tradition requiring children of married couples to take the father's surname only.

The court sided with an Italian couple who had fought for 13 years to have their children bear the mother's maiden name, rather than the father's last name, the BBC reports.

The ruling finds the existing Italian law to be patriarchal, discriminatory and an infringement of individual rights. Judges ordered Italy to change the law, which dates back to the Roman era.

The case began in 1999, when the couple were refused permission to give their daughter the mother's maiden name.

Alessandra Cusan and Luigi Fazzo appealed against the decision, arguing that there was no provision in Italian law which prevented Maddalena from having the maternal surname.

But the court dismissed the appeal on the basis that the rule "corresponded to a principle rooted in social consciousness and in Italian history".

The couple won a minor victory in 2012, when authorities in the city of Milan allowed Maddalena to be called Fazzo Cusan. However, last year the couple decided to took the case to the human rights court in the French city of Strasbourg.

On Tuesday, the ECHR ruled that Italy's law was incompatible with the principle of gender equality enshrined in Italy's modern constitution. The tribunal called the practice "excessively rigid".

Rome will have to change its legislation to comply with the ruling, unless it lodges an appeal with a higher chamber of the European court within three months.