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to Section One | to Arts & Entertainment
posted Friday, February 13, 2015 - Volume 43 Issue 07
New Greek government promises same-sex civil unions
Section One
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New Greek government promises same-sex civil unions

by Mike Andrew - SGN Staff Writer

Greece's newly-elected left-wing government has promised to legalize same-sex civil unions.

New Justice Minister Nikolaos Paraskevopoulos told parliament on February 9 that the country's civil union law, passed only for straight couples in 2008, would be extended to Gay and Lesbian couples. Paraskevopoulos did not say exactly when the changes would be made.

SYRIZA - the Coalition of the Radical Left - swept to power in January, upsetting the ruling conservative government. They immediately announced sweeping changes in Greece's economic policy and the country's rocky relationship with the European Central Bank (ECB).

Although SYRIZA's coalition partner, the Independent Greeks party, is socially conservative and anti-Gay, the left can count on votes from other left-wing deputies to pass its social agenda. SYRIZA made an alliance with Independent Greeks because both are opposed to the ECB-imposed austerity program endorsed by the previous Greek government.

When the civil unions bill passes, it will resolve a long-standing dispute between Greece and the Council of Europe's Court of Human Rights. In 2013, the court ordered the Greek government to pay damages to a Gay couple who sued because they were excluded from civil union status.

The new Prime Minister, Alexis Tsipras, is in an opposite-sex civil union with his spouse, Peristera Batziana. They were high school sweethearts and members of the Communist Youth of Greece. Tsipras and Batziana have two sons.

Tsipras is also an atheist, and his inauguration as Prime Minister was the first in Greek history to be performed without the assistance of the Greek Orthodox Archbishop of Athens. Tsipras's relationship with the Archbishop is said to be friendly, however.

Archbishop Ieronymos, unlike his openly right-wing predecessor, represents a centrist faction in the Orthodox Church.

In 2008, when a socialist mayor married two same-sex couples, Ieronymos shrugged off the incident, saying 'They're not church members and they didn't get married in church, so I have nothing to say about it. You have to adapt to the times.'

Some of his colleagues, however, have been openly hostile to LGBT rights.

Bishop Seraphim of Piraeus threatened to excommunicate any public official who supported same-sex unions, calling them a 'terrible sin.' SYRIZA carried the working class Piraeus district in the January 25 election.

Last June, Bishop Anthimos of Thessaloniki, Greece's second-largest city, called the local Pride festival a 'disgrace and a challenge.'

'Show respect that my position and life is wholly dedicated to the church and the people and respect the fact that I'm well behaved, so don't associate me with this disgrace,' the bishop proclaimed. 'Enough. This is a perversion of the human existence.'

Anthimos was a rival of Archbishop Ieronymos in the 2008 election to head the Greek church. SYRIZA also carried Thessaloniki in the January parliamentary election.

Reactionary clerics are not the only challenge for Greece's LGBT community.

The neo-Nazi Golden Dawn Party, which has been implicated in Gay-bashing incidents in Athens, emerged from the January 25 election as the third-largest party in Greece, despite the fact that its leaders are in jail awaiting trial on racketeering charges.

Many Greek LGBT activists have also charged that the police are Golden Dawn supporters and turn a blind eye to attacks on Gay people.

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