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15th Nov 2018

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Greece ends discrimination of gay people in civil union law

  • Gay pride in Thessaloniki, 2013. New law will allow citizens in a same-sex relationship to enter into a civil union (Photo: Ira Gelb)

Greece's parliament approved a bill late on Tuesday evening (22 December) allowing citizens in a same-sex relationship to enter into a civil union, a legal arrangement similar to marriage.

The law overrides the legal situation of the past seven years during which only men and women were allowed to have a civil union, and which the European Court of Human Rights has said was discriminatory.

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  • Tsipras: 'Greek society is not as fearful and mean as some people wish to present it'

“This ends a period of backwardness and shame for the state, which led to our country receiving international rulings against it,” said Greek prime minister Alexis Tsipras, according to Kathimerini newspaper.

“Instead of celebrating, though, maybe we should apologise to hundreds of thousands of fellow citizens that have been denied their rights all these years,” the left-wing leader added.

In 2008, Greece introduced civil union rights, but excluded people in same-sex relationships.

Several gay couples lodged complaints with the Strasbourg-based court, which oversees the rights established in the European Convention on Human Rights.

In a ruling of November 2013, the court said the Greek government “had not offered convincing and weighty reasons capable of justifying the exclusion of same-sex couples from the scope” of the civil union law.

Tuesday's adopted legislation attempts to correct this situation.

It was approved with 194 Yes votes and 55 No votes. The bill received support from Tsipras' Syriza party, centre-left and centrist MPs, and from around a third of members of centre-right New Democracy.

Syriza had made same-sex civil unions an election promise.

However, in Tsipras' coalition party, the right-wing nationalist Independent Greeks, six of its nine parliamentarians voted against. The neo-nazi Golden Dawn party and communists also voted against.

The Greek Orthodox Church had lobbied against the bill, with some bishops quoted as saying that homosexuality was a “crime”.

Gay rights lobby group Ilga-Europe was happy with the outcome.

“Successive Greek governments had talked about legally recognising same-sex couples and I’m thrilled to finally see these positive words translated into meaningful change for couples in Greece,” it said in a statement.

Human rights lobbyists from Amnesty also praised the result of the vote, but said more work was to be done to ensure the rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex people (LGBTI).

“Amnesty International stresses that the fight for LGBTI rights is far from over and urges the Greek government to guarantee all rights, including equality before the law (including marriage), adoption rights and legal gender recognition for transgender people,” Amnesty said in a press statement.

It added that “LGBTI people in Greece still live in a climate of hostility from which the authorities are failing to protect them adequately”.

Prime minister Tsipras said the vote showed “Greek society is not as fearful and mean as some people wish to present it”, but added that more change was needed.

“We have a long distance to cover to continue the daily struggle against every type of discrimination, especially against racism,” noted Tsipras.

“This struggle needs democratic forces and social movements to come together. It requires constant vigilance and political courage so we do not let darkness win,” he said.

The Greek vote came just two days after Slovenians rejected gay marriage in a popular vote.

Almost two-thirds of those who showed up at a referendum voted to repeal a gay marriage law passed earlier by the Slovenian parliament.

Slovenia rejects gay marriage law

Almost two-thirds of people rejected a law on gay marriage in Slovenia’s referendum on Sunday, highlighting an east-west EU cultural divide.

EU court bars tests for gay asylum seekers

Authorities in EU countries can no longer impose controversial psychological tests to determine whether an aslyum seeker is telling the truth about their homosexuality.

LGBTI protection still lacking in EU

Despite some welcome advances, some legal rights for the LGBTI community are lacking in EU member states, and the rise of the populist right is making things worse, conference in Warsaw is told.

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