Metro Weekly

Greece approves civil unions for same-sex couples

Measure encountered significant resistance from Orthodox church

The chamber of the Senate in the Hellenic Parliament (Phtoto: PASOK, via Wikimedia Commons).
The chamber of the Senate in the Hellenic Parliament (Phtoto: PASOK, via Wikimedia Commons).

Greece’s parliament has approved a bill allowing gay and lesbian couples to form civil unions, becoming one of the last countries in Europe to provide any form of legal recognition to same-sex relationships.

Greek lawmakers voted 193-56 to approve the measure, which deals with issues related to property and inheritance. However, the bill does not have any provision allowing same-sex couples to adopt children,, Agence France-Presse reports. The bulk of political support for civil unions came from Tsipras’ left-wing Syriza party and four other minor parties. But members of the nationalist Independent Greeks (ANEL) opposed the bill. 

“This is an important day for human rights,” Alexis Tsipras, Greece’s prime minister, said in remarks before parliament, referring to the failure to grant legal rights to same-sex unions as a practice of “backwardness and shame.”

The vote comes two years after Greece was condemned by the European Court of Human Rights for anti-LGBT discrimination. The Greek Orthodox Church, which has been highly influential in bending lawmakers to its will, has opposed any recognition for same-sex unions. The church was instrumental in annulling two same-sex civil marriages in 2008, and pushing for the exclusion of same-sex couples from the country’s civil union bill in that same year.

“Instead of celebrating this, we should apologize to thousands of our fellow citizens,” Tsipras added.

Global rights organization Amnesty International called passage of the civil unions bill an “historic step” but also pointed out that LGBT Greeks still face discrimination and hostility within the country, and that no rights or protections have been extended to transgender people.

“Despite this first step, LGBTI people in Greece still live in a climate of hostility from which the authorities are failing to protect them adequately,” Gauri van Gulik, Amnesty International’s Deputy Director for Europe and Central Asia, said in a statement. “Physical attacks are on the rise, hate speech is common and goes unchecked by the authorities. Even displays of affection between same-sex couples are censored on television.”

Thirteen EU countries have legalized same-sex marriage, including Great Britain, France and Spain, but eastern and southern European countries lag behind their Western counterparts. For instance, Ireland became the first country to approve same-sex marriage via referendum in May. But voters in Slovenia overwhelmingly voted against same-sex marriage and adoption in a referendum on Sunday.

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