Instead they must register their partnership as a civil union, which is the only option Italy offers same-sex couples.
In a decision on Monday, the Court of Cassation handed down the final judgement on an appeal lodged by an Italian and a Brazilian man who married in Brazil in 2012, then performed another ceremony in Portugal in 2013. The couple sought to have their marriage recognized under Italian law in Milan but were denied, prompting them to mount a legal challenge that made its way to Italy's highest court.
The supreme court judges agreed with an earlier appeals court ruling on the case, which stated that Italian law would recognize married same-sex couples only as civil partners, regardless of whether they wed before or after Italy introduced civil unions in 2016.
The Italian-Brazilian couple, backed by a network of lawyers for LGBTI rights, Rete Lenford, argued that the move constituted discriminatory "downgrading" of their relationship status.
The supreme court, however, judged that civil unions provide most of the same legal protections as marriages – with adoption rights a notable exception – and therefore could not be considered discrimination.
"Same-sex marriage does not correspond to the model of matrimony outlined in our legal system," the judges stated, ruling that Italy may legitimately use its "legislative discretion" to exclude same-sex couples from marriage so long as a valid alternative is available to them.
The ruling is the first of its kind since same-sex civil unions became legal in Italy two years ago. The country was one of the last Western nations to recognize gay partners and offers them fewer legal rights than many of its European neighbours, including Catholic Portugal and Spain.
While Italy does not guarantee same-sex couples the right to jointly adopt children or stepchildren, in a landmark move last month, the city of Turin allowed children conceived by artificial insemination or surrogacy to be legally registered to both same-sex parents. Some local authorities have also recognized joint adoptions carried out abroad.
Photo: Filippo Monteforte/AFP