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to Section One | to Arts & Entertainment
posted Friday, September 12 2014 - Volume 42 Issue 37
Greece delays civil unions vote, activists protest
Section One
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Greece delays civil unions vote, activists protest

by Mike Andrew - SGN Staff Writer

Some 500 LGBT activists gathered outside the Greek parliament building September 5 to protest after the government delayed legislation to allow same-sex civil unions.

The civil unions measure was to have been part of a comprehensive LGBT rights bill. The hate crimes portion of the legislation passed, but the section recognizing same-sex relationships was left out.

Justice Minister Haralambos Athanasiou said civil unions had been left out of the legislation because further study was needed on how the partnerships would affect the tax and social insurance system, as well as family law.

'I think it is an issue that requires us to respect the detail and the sensitivity involved ... and should not be added on to the legislation we are currently discussing,' Athanasiou told parliament.

Adding to activists' frustration was the fact that the LGBT rights measure had been languishing in parliament for the past three years. Former Socialist Prime Minister George Papandreou promised to legalize same-sex civil unions after he was elected in 2008, but his government was soon overwhelmed with Greece's economic crisis, and he lost his parliamentary majority in 2011 without passing the legislation.

Last November, the Council of Europe's Court of Human Rights ruled that Greek family law illegally discriminated against Gay and Lesbian couples, and ordered the Greek government to pay damages to four same-sex couples who took the case to the court in Strasbourg, France.

This year, another 162 same-sex couples from Greece filed a similar complaint to pressure the government to change the law.

'I think the changes will happen step by step, as they did in other countries like [Britain], where first there was civil partnerships, then marriage equality, and then changes to adoption,' said Tom Koukoulis, one of the plaintiffs in the case. Koukoulis attended the September 5 demonstration with his partner of two years, Aristidis Paraskakis.

'It's about the right to ... visit a relative in hospital, to file a joint tax declaration, and all the rest,' Koukoulis said. 'We do think it is going to happen because we are on the right side of history.'

The wealthy and conservative Greek Orthodox Church has influence with the center-right coalition that succeeded Papandreou in 2011, and the Church is steadfastly opposed to same-sex relationships, so prospects for more than piecemeal expansion of LGBT rights are slim.

The neo-Nazi Golden Dawn party, which is violently anti-Gay as well as anti-Semitic and anti-immigrant, has also gained in popularity as mainstream political parties struggled to cope with Greece's staggering economic melt-down. Golden Dawn supporters - including ones inside the police force - are blamed for several recent assaults on Gay couples in Athens.

In 2008, a socialist mayor married one Gay and one Lesbian couple, taking advantage of the fact that existing Greek law did not specify the gender of people who could be married. Many Greek Orthodox bishops condemned the marriages as 'abominations' but the Archbishop of Athens shrugged off the incident.

The marriages were subsequently annulled by Greek courts, but the couples have appealed to European courts.

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