Alessandra Cusan and Luigi Fazzo won their case against the Italian state in the Strasbourg court, nearly fifteen years after beginning their legal battle to have their daughter take “Cusan” as a surname.
The refusal of the Italian courts to allow the couple to choose their daughter's surname “reflects discrimination based on the parents’ sex”, the European Court said on Tuesday.
“The tradition conferring the father’s surname to all the members of a family could not justify discrimination against women,” the court ruled.
Cusan and Fazzo first attempted to register their daughter with her mother’s name when she was born in 1999, a request which was rejected by Italian authorities.
The couple, from Milan, saw their subsequent appeal rejected in order to uphold “a principle which was rooted in social consciousness and in Italian history”, according to the European Court.
Despite Italy’s Constitutional Court deciding in 2006 that this view was outdated and went against the principle of gender equality, Cusan and Fazzo were still not allowed to choose their daughter’s name.
“The system in force derived from a patriarchal understanding of the family and of the husband’s powers, which had its roots in Roman law,” the Constitutional Court said, but argued that only parliament could change the rules.
The Italians then took their fight to the European Court, which concluded that the Italian system was “excessively rigid and discriminatory towards women”.
The prefect of Milan in 2012 allowed the girl to take the surname Fazzo Cusan, after the couple appealed to Italy’s interior minister, although the European Court said this did not go far enough.
Italy now has three months to appeal the decision.