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FILE PHOTO: Italian Interior Minister Matteo Salvini gestures during a news conference in Rome, Italy July 5, 2018. REUTERS/Tony Gentile/File Photo

(reuters_tickers)

By Gavin Jones

ROME (Reuters) - Italy's right-wing Deputy Prime Minister Matteo Salvini has ordered the wording on some official forms changed so that same-sex couples cannot both declare themselves as a child's parents.

Salvini, interior minister and leader of the anti-immigrant League party, is now the Italy's most favoured politician, according to some surveys, and his socially conservative policies have proven popular among voters so far.

In an interview with a Catholic online newspaper Salvini said he had ordered the identity card application forms for children to be changed to refer to the "mother and father" instead of "parent 1" and "parent 2".

"We will defend the natural family founded on the union between a man and a woman. I will exert all the power possible," Salvini told La Nuova Bussola Quotidiana.

In Italy surrogate pregnancies are illegal and same-sex couples cannot adopt children.

However, some courts and city halls have granted parental status to the partner of a mother or father who had children by a previous relationship, even though the right is not enshrined in national law.

Salvini said the government would never contemplate surrogate pregnancies "or similar horrors".

Support for the League, which governs with the anti-establishment 5-Star Movement, has surged from 17 percent of the vote at a March national election, to around 30 percent in recent opinion polls. The less hardline 5-Star, on the other hand, has held steady at about 30 percent.

Salvini's refusal to take in migrants rescued at sea by humanitarian ships has drawn criticism from some Roman Catholic factions because Pope Francis has made compassion toward refugees and migrants a plank of his papacy.

As a result, last month a popular Christian magazine comparing Salvini to Satan on its front cover.

But a recent Ipsos poll showed support for Salvini among Catholics who attend mass at least once a week has doubled, reaching almost 32 percent in July from just under 16 percent in March.

The previous centre-left government passed a law granting limited rights to same sex couples in "civil unions" two years ago. After taking power in June, the League's minister for the family, Lorenzo Fontana, caused a stir when he said that as far as he was concerned "rainbow families don't exist".

Fontana, known for his conservative Catholic views, has also called for the repeal of the current law which punishes racial and religious discrimination.

On another issue, Salvini told the website he would try to crack down on shops selling legal cannabis products that have no psychoactive effects, which have become widespread in Italy.

"These shops seem like Chinese massage centres that disguise fully-fledged brothels," he said.

Salvini promised to find a compromise with the health minister, who is from 5-Star and who he said took a different view to him on the matter.

(Additional reporting by Steve Scherer)

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Reuters