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The Deceptive Promise of Greece’s Legalisation of Same-Sex Marriage

In Febuary of this year, Greece’s parliament passed a law that legalised same-sex marriage and granted full parental rights to same-sex couples. As Greece is the first Orthodox Christian country to do so, this law has been widely regarded as a milestone in the global struggle for marriage equality.  However despite the cross-party collaboration which was necessary to pass the law, the choice of 124 lawmakers, out of the 300 members of parliament, to either oppose or abstain from the vote is representative of the split in beliefs and values in Greece. 


The Orthodox Church, to which 80% or more of Greece’s population belongs, vehemently opposes same-sex marriage and lobbied all 300 members of parliament to reject the bill. The church’s preeminence and sway in Greece has been a factor in the delay to pass a marriage equality law since civil partnership was legalised by parliamentary vote in 2015. The church’s open letter to parliamentarians gave far right constituents ammunition to decry the law as “anti-Christian”. The former Prime Minister, Antonis Samaras, spoke out against the law, calling it “dangerous”. Protests, petitions, pleas, and threats were directed at lawmakers, often carried out in the name of the church or galvanised by its members such as Bishop Seraphim of Piraeus, who threatened to block any parliamentarians voting in favour of the bill from attending his church. The law nonetheless passed with the support of Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis. Yet despite international praise, especially from LGBTQ+ activists, community members, and other nations, this law’s promise may be deceiving. 


As of 2024, Greece still denies the rights of parenthood of children born to same-sex couples abroad or through a surrogate. In cases of surrogacy where the biological parent dies, the child instantly goes to social services and the law favours adoption by other relatives to that of the surviving parent. This reluctance to accord full rights may be partly indicative of the underlying political motives, rather than moral imperatives, behind this law.


Greece’s same-sex marriage and parental rights law passes at a time when Mitsotakis seeks the progressive vote and to do so supports measures that attract praise from the centrists and liberals who regularly vote for Syriza, the opposition party. After the entire left-wing opposition was weakened by Mitsotakis’s big win in the June parliamentary elections, he has been able to adopt more liberal stances without significant push-back. Passing this law also allowed Greece to further its claim of being a country with “progressive” and “democratic” values, strategically aligning Greece with the EU and its liberal mission. Accordingly the Prime Minister's Chief Economic Advisor, Alex Patelis, stated that “Greece geographically is in the southeast, but culturally and politically it belongs to the West”. 


Despite the claims of the Greek leadership to Westernised values, 69% of the population is still reportedly against same-sex parenthood. However, in the pan-European setting, this law is a welcome distraction from the European Parliament's resolution expressing concerns about media freedom and fundamental rights in Greece after their recent spying scandal. Additionally, the law will not prevent homophobic discrimination, as attested by the outburst of “hate speech” that began as it was introduced in Parliament. Additionally, the law is threatened by at least four parties that vehemently rejected it, all four of which called for its nullification. 


Though it is important that Greece is the first Orthodox-Christian country to explicitly recognise these equality rights despite the association between Orthodoxy and social conservatism, it is too early to tell whether this is the beginning of a trend in Europe or simply representative of the ambition of a country to ingratiate itself with EU progressives.  More apparent is the noticeable increase in legislative attacks against LGBTQ+ people in countries that are becoming increasingly conservative. In Italy, overseas surrogacy became illegal in 2023, and this specifically targets same-sex parents who have been travelling to have their children. In Uganda, LGBTQ+ people have become criminalised as of 2023, and Russia’s aggressive anti-LGBTQ+ laws are increasingly repressive. 


In these times, it is very important to not only celebrate LGBTQ+ legislative wins, but to protect and expand them to be more all encompassing. As evidenced by the anti-trans legislative attacks in the United States, even in nations where same-sex marriage is legalized, vigilance is still necessary. 

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