ROME (Reuters) - Same-sex parenting is not normal, a senior member of the far-right party expected to win Italy's election on Sunday has suggested, casting a fresh spotlight on its socially conservative agenda.
The remarks from Federico Mollicone, culture spokesman for Giorgia Meloni's Brothers of Italy (FdI), triggered outrage from political opponents and on social media as Meloni looks poised to become Italy's first female prime minister.
Speaking in a television interview with San Marino's Rtv late on Thursday, Mollicone revived criticism he had previously expressed of an episode of the popular children's cartoon "Peppa Pig" that featured a polar bear with two mothers.
"It is a very serious issue," Mollicone said. "As long as the Italian state does not legislate on these couples, presenting them as something absolutely normal is wrong, because it is not."
He went on to say that "in Italy homosexual couples are not legal, are not allowed" - despite the country having legalised same-sex civil unions in 2016 with a reform that FdI opposed in parliament.
At political rallies Meloni has fiercely denounced what she calls "gender ideology" and "the LGBT lobby".
After the criticism of his comments Mollicone clarified on Friday that he was referring only to gay couples who adopt. He insisted that his party now supports civil unions and "is against all discrimination."
Two weeks ago he caused a stir when he said the "Peppa Pig" episode with the lesbian polar bears, first aired in Britain, should not be broadcast in Italy to avoid "gender indoctrination".
He defended that stance in the San Marino interview, saying "you tell me if 4-year-old children ... can process complex concepts like gay adoptions, understand them and see them being presented as an absolutely natural fact".
His remarks were leapt on by rivals in Sunday's vote.
"Mollicone give us a preview of what an FdI-led Italy could look like: a state that denies rights and expects to regulate love," the Democratic Party, Italy's main centre-left force, tweeted.
During the campaign, Meloni has repeatedly denied suggestions she might roll back legislation on abortion or gay rights, while reaffirming her opposition to adoptions and surrogacy for LGBT couples.
(Reporting by Alvise Armellini; additional reporting by Rodolfo Fabbri; editing by Gavin Jones and Jonathan Oatis)