13th Apr 2024

Greece becomes first Orthodox state to legalise gay marriage

  • Greece had been one of 12 EU states which did not recognise same-sex marriage, along with Italy, Croatia, and Cyprus (Photo: Unsplash)
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The Hellenic parliament passed a bill to legalise same-sex marriage on Thursday (15 February), by 176 votes in favour, 76 against and two abstentions [46 lawmakers were not present at the vote] — making Greece the first Orthodox Christian country to adopt such a law.

For families like Eleni Maravelia's, what seemed like a dream 25 years ago is now a reality.

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In the early 2000s, Greek-born Eleni fell in love with a woman in England. The couple wanted to get married and start a family, but at the time Greece did not even recognise civil unions for same-sex couples, so they moved to Spain in 2005.

"We couldn't be second-class citizens, and that was my feeling," she told EUobserver in a call from Barcelona, where she and her wife now live with their two daughters.

"I felt I had to do something so that my daughters could have both their mothers recognised in Greece, as in Spain," she added, now talking as a member of NELFA, an umbrella of European LGBTIQ*-family associations advocating for equal rights for so-called 'rainbow families'.

In Greece, civil unions were recognised in 2015, which for rainbow families did not translate into extending equal parental rights to same-sex couples — a fixed hole under the new law.

The bill was announced earlier this year by prime minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis and was agreed in an unusual collaboration between Mitsotakis' conservative government and left-wing opposition parties such as Syriza — in spite of strong opposition from the powerful Greek Orthodox Church, which fears it could weaken its concept of the 'traditional' family.

Last Sunday, over 1,500 protestors of traditionalist groups and far-right political parties rallied in front of the parliament in Athens to oppose the bill.

Recent polls also showed that civil society appeared divided, while just 55 percent of Greek citizens supporting Mitsotakis' bill.

"For me, it says a lot about Mitsotakis that he has decided to do this at a time when he has no pressure from the opposition and, on top of that, he may face opposition from within", Maravelia said, as Greece's prime minister introduced the bill with dissent not only from the church, but from his own centre-right party.

So far, Greece was one of 12 member states which did not recognise same-sex marriage in the EU, along with Italy, Croatia, or Cyprus, for instance.

Meanwhile, other eastern European countries, such as Romania, do not allow any form of same-sex union, while Hungary and Bulgaria have a constitutional ban on marriage for gay couples.

"Pursuing what should be a given in 2024 is not exactly gratifying, as it implies that states and societies treat LGBTQI+ individuals in a fundamentally problematic manner," Greek MEP Konstantinos Arvanitis (from the coalition of the Radical Left) told EUobserver.

In his view, more substantive equality should be sought through concrete, enforceable, and monitored policies, instead of only formal equality under the law.

He referred, for example, to how gay couples would be allowed to adopt children under the new law, but not to have a baby through a surrogate, which is possible for heterosexual couples in need of assisted reproduction.

"I urge groups that have sought to remove references to the health implications of discriminations against LGBTQI+ individuals, as well as the EU to legislate directly and horizontally on gender-affirmation procedures," he said.

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