In June 2008 Tasos Aliferis, mayor of the island of Tilos, officiated over Greece’s first same-sex civil ceremonies, uniting one male and one female couple. Aliferis cited a loophole in the law.
I consulted the Greek civil code and the constitution and verified there is no law against same-sex marriages. The laws on marriage simply do not specify any genders. To me, therefore, if something is not banned by law it is not illegal, he said.
The Government subsequently charged Aliferis with breach of duty. In May this year, a Rhodes court annulled the marriages. The couples intend to take their case through the Greek legal system and, if necessary, to the European Court of Human Rights.
Gay equality in Greece has recently become a significant discussion point.
Andrea Gilbert, who’s been living in Athens for 20 years, is the spokeswoman for Athens Pride, which includes a parade, panel discussions and cultural events.
I attribute our activities to a recent shift towards greater acceptance. Since our second year in 2006, Athens Pride has consistently received positive media coverage in the mainstream press. The community has more respect and I see this growing, she said.
In December 2005, the Government proposed increasing rights to unmarried heterosexual couples but refused to include same-sex couples in the proposed bill. Greek Justice Minister Anastassis Papaligouras said, Any legislative initiative cannot exceed the tolerance and the sentiment of what is generally acceptable in any society.
Three years later the Government again placed a cohabitation bill on the agenda. However, now the Justice Ministry announced it was willing to consider same-sex couples through a working group established to, analyse all aspects of the issue, international practice and the existing domestic legal and social framework.
Andrea says activists are using the cohabitation bill to push for civil unions, arguing that by excluding same-sex couples, they are discriminatory and won’t stand up in a European court.
I predict that same-sex marriage will be legalised fairly soon here, but we need to get rid of the conservative New Democracy Government first, she said.
The main impediment to obtaining equality is the powerful Greek Orthodox Church.
Athens-born Stelios, 32, believes Greek culture is inherently conservative.
Greeks are very religious, with the Church failing to accept homosexuality. Also, Greek families have a very strong bond.
Greek parents like to see their children well-educated, married with kids, successful in their career. Homosexuality goes against the procreation of human nature.
Andrea believes there is an unofficial -˜don’t ask, don’t tell’ family policy.
The excuse is that gays and lesbians don’t want to -˜hurt their families’. In my opinion it has more to do with not wanting to rock their own comfort boat. Greeks are so financially and materially dependent on their families that they don’t want to jeopardise their domestic situation, she said.
Ultimately, Andrea believes the solution is visibility.
We have to come out. We have to turn up at Athens Pride in June and not just at night for the party, she said.
As long as we stay in the closet, our numbers will not be counted. Politicians will ignore us, commerce will ignore us. We will continue to be powerless.