POLITICS

Greece becomes first Orthodox Christian country to legalize same-sex civil marriage

Feb 14, 2024, 9:06 PM | Updated: Feb 15, 2024, 7:34 pm

ATHENS, Greece (AP) — Greece on Thursday became the first Orthodox Christian country to legalize same-sex civil marriage, despite opposition from the influential, socially conservative Greek Church.

A cross-party majority of 176 lawmakers in the 300-seat parliament voted late Thursday in favor of the landmark bill drafted by Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis ‘ center-right government. Another 76 rejected the reform while two abstained from the vote and 46 were not present in the house.

Mitsotakis tweeted after the vote that Greece “is proud to become the 16th (European Union) country to legislate marriage equality.”

“This is a milestone for human rights, reflecting today’s Greece — a progressive, and democratic country, passionately committed to European values,” he wrote.

Scores of supporters of the reform who had gathered outside parliament and were watching the debate on a screen cheered loudly and hugged as the vote result was announced.

“This took a long time to be adopted in our country … but at least it happened and that’s what is important,” said a man who only gave his first name, Nikolas. “We are no longer invisible.”

Earlier, people opposed to the bill had also protested nearby, holding prayer books and religious icons.

Opinion polls suggest that most Greeks support the reform by a narrow margin, and the issue has failed to trigger deep divisions in a country more worried about the high cost of living.

The bill was backed by four left-wing parties, including the main opposition Syriza.

“This law doesn’t solve every problem, but it is a beginning,” said Spiros Bibilas, a lawmaker from the small left-wing Passage to Freedom party, who is openly gay.

It was approved despite several majority and left-wing lawmakers abstaining or voting against the reform. Three small far-right parties and the Stalinist-rooted Communist Party rejected the draft law from the start of the two-day debate.

“People who have been invisible will finally be made visible around us. And with them, many children (will) finally find their rightful place,” Mitsotakis told lawmakers ahead of the evening vote.

“Both parents of same-sex couples do not yet have the same legal opportunities to provide their children with what they need,” he added. “To be able to pick them up from school, to be able to travel, to go to the doctor, or take them to the hospital. … That is what we are fixing.”

The bill confers full parental rights on married same-sex partners with children. But it precludes gay couples from parenthood through surrogate mothers in Greece — an option currently available to women who can’t have children for health reasons.

Many LGBTQ+ rights advocates have criticized that limitation, as well as the absence of any provision for transgender people.

Psychologist Nancy Papathanasiou, scientific co-director of Orlando LGBT+, which advocates for LGBTQI mental health, echoed that concern but said the new law confers a very important sense of equality.

“Discrimination is the most pervasive risk factor for mental health,” she said. “So just knowing that there is less discrimination is protective and promotive for LGBTQI mental health.”

Maria Syrengela, a lawmaker from the governing New Democracy, or ND, said the reform redresses a long-standing injustice for same-sex couples and their children.

“And let’s reflect on what these people have been through, spending so many years in the shadows, entangled in bureaucratic procedures,” she said.

Dissidents among the governing party included former Prime Minister Antonis Samaras, from ND’s conservative wing.

“Same-sex marriage is not a human right … and it’s not an international obligation for our country,” he told parliament. “Children have a right to have parents from both sexes.”

Polls show that while most Greeks agree to same-sex weddings they also reject extending parenthood through surrogacy to male couples. Same-sex civil partnerships have been allowed in Greece since 2015. But that only conferred legal guardianship to the biological parents of children in those relationships, leaving their partners in a bureaucratic limbo.

The main opposition to the new bill has come from the traditionalist Church of Greece — which also disapproves of heterosexual civil marriage.

Church officials have centered their criticism on the bill’s implications for traditional family values, and argue that potential legal challenges could lead to a future extension of surrogacy rights to gay couples.

Church supporters and conservative organizations have staged small protests against the proposed law.

Far-right lawmaker Vassilis Stigas, head of the small Spartans party, described the legislation Thursday as “sick” and claimed that its adoption would “open the gates of Hell and perversion.”

Politically, the same-sex marriage law is not expected to harm Mitsotakis’ government, which won easy re-election last year after capturing much of the centrist vote.

A stronger challenge comes from ongoing protests by farmers angry at high production costs, and intense opposition from many students to the planned scrapping of a state monopoly on university education.

Nevertheless, parliament is expected to approve the university bill later this month, and opinion polls indicate that most Greeks support it.

___

Associated Press reporters Derek Gatopoulos, Michael Varaklas, Lefteris Pittarakis and Theodora Tongas in Athens contributed to this report.

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Greece becomes first Orthodox Christian country to legalize same-sex civil marriage