The present research aims at gathering information on how LGBT individuals are living through the ongoing changes that are traversing Europe in terms of regulation of same-sex relationships. In a moment of transitions and strong public debates across Europe on same-sex sexualities and parenting rights, this research intends to ascertain how LGBT individuals perceive the impact that the presence (or absence) of laws has on their intimate lives. The research was conducted in four countries with different social contexts and legal frameworks: France, Iceland, Italy, Spain.

Central to the research are questions about the legal recognition of relationship, as well as about how laws are perceived to impact one’s relationships and one’s parental projects. This research hence investigates a selected group of participants’ narratives about their daily lives with and without the recognition of the law and the larger society they live in. It also examines the degree to which the respondents define themselves as able to live their relationships safely and securely. In particular questions are asked as to whether strategies for negotiating one’s visibility differ between the countries analysed. How are the laws or the absence thereof circumnavigated to accommodate non-normative familial arrangements? How are the material and symbolic impacts of laws (or lack thereof) narrated by our informants?

In our research, Iceland represents the Scandinavian model of recognising same-sex couples, first through a ‘registered partnership’ device created especially for same-sex couples and then by opening up marriage with nearly all parental rights. But Iceland also recognises a registered cohabitation protection that offers more flexibility for couples in terms of the shape of their union as well as the framework of their separation.

Spain instead represents a case where the absence of recognition was followed by equal marriage and adoption rights in 2005. At the national level therefore there was no institute such as civil partnership that was put in place in particular for same-sex couples but it is important to stress that regional laws had been legally recognising different types of cohabitation and familial arrangement before 2005.

In 2011, at the time the project was conceived, France allowed same-sex couples to enter PACS, a civil contract which does not deal with family matters but only with material aspects of cohabitation. After the investigation started, in 2013 France extended marriage and adoption rights to same-sex couples. Other parenting rights such as access to ART (Assisted Reproductive Technologies) for lesbian couples are however still not legally recognised. At first sight, the change of law in France created a scheme that is more or less similar to the Icelandic one.

Italy is going through some major changes in the legal recognition of same-sex couples and gay and lesbian parenting rights, albeit in a way that is far from linear. In May 2016 the Parliament approved the legal recognition of same-sex relationships, however step-child adoption was not included in the legal framework and women who are not in heterosexual marriage are still barred access to ART. However increasingly tribunals in Italy are granting recognition to parenting projects outside heterosexual couples, surpassing the gaps that characterise the political debate. The interviews analysed in this paper have been collected in 2014 and 2015 when Italy had no law at all. Compared to the other three countries, it is interesting to examine how participants frame their claim to rights and the impact the absence of legal recognition has had on their life and well-being.