Greece legalizes same-sex marriage, first Orthodox country to authorize it

Greece legalizes same-sex marriage, first Orthodox country to authorize it

Greece legalized same-sex marriage and equal parental rights for same-sex couples on Thursday, as lawmakers passed a bill that has divided Greek society and sparked vehement opposition from the country’s powerful Orthodox Church .

Although Greece became the 16th European Union country to allow same-sex marriage, it is the first Orthodox Christian nation to pass such a law. The country extended civil partnerships to same-sex couples in 2015, but had not yet extended equal parental rights at the time.

Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis had pledged to adopt the new measures after his landslide re-election last year. He told his cabinet last month that same-sex marriage was a matter of equal rights, pointed out that similar legislation was in force in more than 30 other countries and said there should be no “second-class citizens” or “children of the same sex”. Lesser God. »

In addition to recognizing same-sex marriages, the legislation paves the way for adoption and gives equal rights to both same-sex parents as legal guardians of a child, whereas to date, these rights have not been applied only to the biological parent. It would also affect the daily lives of same-sex couples, Mitsotakis told parliament on Thursday, by allowing people with children “to pick them up from school, to be able to travel with them, to take them to the doctor.” .

The law does not give same-sex couples access to assisted procreation or the possibility of surrogate pregnancies. It also doesn’t give transgender people rights as parents.

The bill was adopted Thursday by 176 votes for and 76 against in the 300-seat Parliament after a heated debate.

Human rights activists have welcomed the prospect of same-sex marriage in Greece. Maria Gavouneli, president of Greece’s National Human Rights Commission, an independent public body, called the measure “long overdue.” And Stella Belia, founder of Rainbow Families, an organization that supports same-sex families, called the legislation “a major victory that we have been fighting for years.”

One of the first to benefit from the new law would be Lio Emmanouilidou, a 43-year-old teacher, who plans to marry his longtime partner in Thessaloniki on March 8, International Women’s Day. She said she was excited about the marriage and hailed the bill as “a step in the right direction and a big win for the community.”

She lamented, however, that even with her approval, her partner would still face a “long and expensive” adoption process – costing about 3,500 euros, or $3,750 – to become the legal guardian of Ms. Emmanouilidou, that the partners grew up together as a family. (Under the new bill, both members of a same-sex married couple would automatically be legally recognized as parents of the children the couples give birth to or adopt.)

Ms Emmanouilidou also said she was disturbed by the opposition to the measures. But she said that in her experience, most Greeks were accepting of same-sex couples and that her school and community treated her family like any other.

“Society is much more ready for this than we think,” she said.

However, in a country which remains one of the most socially conservative in Europe, where the traditional family model is still predominant and where the influential Orthodox Church considers homosexuality an aberration, these measures have encountered a certain resistance. .

The Holy Synod, the highest authority in the Greek Orthodox Church, claimed in a letter to lawmakers this month that the bill “abolishes paternity and maternity, neutralizes the sexes” and creates an environment of confusion for kids. Clerics have echoed the sentiment in sermons across the country in recent weeks, and some bishops have said they would refuse to baptize the children of same-sex couples.

Religious groups have also joined forces with far-right parties to hold rallies in Athens and other cities to oppose the changes. Last Sunday, hundreds of people demonstrated in front of Parliament, some holding banners reading: “There is only one family, the traditional family.”

Opinion polls conducted in recent weeks have shown a Greek society divided on these issues: in most polls, half of respondents expressed support for same-sex marriage, but most respondents also said they were opposed to it. the authorization of same-sex couples to adopt children.

The bill has also fueled dissent within the Greek political spectrum.

Within the ruling New Democracy party, dozens of lawmakers, including a prominent minister and a former prime minister, argued that the legislation weakened the nuclear family and undermined traditional values. Greek Communist Party leader Dimitris Koutsoubas told parliament on Thursday that legalizing same-sex marriage would “abolish the unity of motherhood and fatherhood.”

And the issue sowed discord within Syriza, the main opposition party: some MPs said the bill did not go far enough, others were reluctant to support a government’s bill conservative on what they saw as a liberal issue and some worried about winning support in rural areas.

Syriza even drafted its own alternative bill, but party leader Stefanos Kasselakis – who is Greece’s first openly gay party leader and has expressed a desire to adopt children through surrogacy with his partner – said he married in New York last October – then urged his fellow lawmakers to support the government’s legislation.

Supporters said the changes were a crucial step toward granting full rights to gay people and their children, and toward opening minds in a society where traditional heteronormative attitudes predominate.

“This is the best we can get from a center-right government with this kind of internal opposition and pressure from the entire Orthodox Church,” Ms. Belia said. “I have to give it to Mitsotakis to follow up on.”

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Eric D. Eilerman

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