Greek parliament legalizes same-sex marriage

Supporters of the same-sex marriage bill, react during a rally at central Syntagma Square, in Athens, Greece, Thursday, Feb. 15, 2024. Greece's lawmakers approved a bill that allows same-sex marriage, making the country the first Orthodox Christian to do so. (AP Photo/Michael Varaklas)
Supporters of the same-sex marriage bill, react during a rally at central Syntagma Square, in Athens, Greece, Thursday, Feb. 15, 2024. Greece's lawmakers approved a bill that allows same-sex marriage, making the country the first Orthodox Christian to do so. (AP Photo/Michael Varaklas)

ATHENS, Greece -- Greece on Thursday became the first Orthodox Christian country to legalize same-sex civil marriage, despite opposition from the influential, socially conservative Greek Church.

A cross-party majority of 176 lawmakers in the 300-seat parliament voted late Thursday in favor of the landmark bill drafted by Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis ' center-right government. Another 76 rejected the change while two abstained from the vote and 46 were not present in the house.

Mitsotakis tweeted after the vote that Greece "is proud to become the 16th [European Union] country to legislate marriage equality."

"This is a milestone for human rights, reflecting today's Greece -- a progressive, and democratic country, passionately committed to European values," he wrote.

Scores of supporters of the policy who had gathered outside parliament and were watching the debate on a screen cheered loudly and hugged as the vote result was announced.

"This took a long time to be adopted in our country ... but at least it happened and that's what is important," said a man who only gave his first name, Nikolas. "We are no longer invisible."

Earlier, people opposed to the bill had also protested nearby, holding prayer books and religious icons.

Opinion polls suggest that most Greeks support the reform by a narrow margin, and the issue has failed to trigger deep divisions in a country more worried about the high cost of living.

The bill was backed by four left-wing parties, including the main opposition Syriza.

"This law doesn't solve every problem, but it is a beginning," said Spiros Bibilas, a lawmaker from the small left-wing Passage to Freedom party, who is openly gay.

It was approved despite several majority and left-wing lawmakers abstaining or voting against the change. Three small far-right parties and the Stalinist-rooted Communist Party rejected the draft law from the start of the two-day debate.

"People who have been invisible will finally be made visible around us. And with them, many children [will] finally find their rightful place," Mitsotakis told lawmakers ahead of the evening vote.

"Both parents of same-sex couples do not yet have the same legal opportunities to provide their children with what they need," he added. "To be able to pick them up from school, to be able to travel, to go to the doctor, or take them to the hospital. ... That is what we are fixing."

The bill confers full parental rights on married same-sex partners with children. But it precludes gay couples from parenthood through surrogate mothers in Greece -- an option currently available to women who can't have children for health reasons.

Many LGBTQ+ rights advocates have criticized that limitation, as well as the absence of any provision for transgender people.

Psychologist Nancy Papathanasiou, scientific co-director of Orlando LGBT+, which advocates for LGBTQI mental health, echoed that concern but said the new law confers a very important sense of equality.

"Discrimination is the most pervasive risk factor for mental health," she said. "So just knowing that there is less discrimination is protective and promotive for LGBTQI mental health."

Dissidents among the governing party included former Prime Minister Antonis Samaras, from ND's conservative wing.

"Same-sex marriage is not a human right ... and it's not an international obligation for our country," he told parliament. "Children have a right to have parents from both sexes."

Polls show that while most Greeks agree to same-sex weddings they also reject extending parenthood through surrogacy to male couples. Same-sex civil partnerships have been allowed in Greece since 2015. But that only conferred legal guardianship to the biological parents of children in those relationships, leaving their partners in a bureaucratic limbo.

The main opposition to the new bill has come from the traditionalist Church of Greece -- which also disapproves of heterosexual civil marriage.

Church officials have centered their criticism on the bill's implications for traditional family values, and argue that potential legal challenges could lead to a future extension of surrogacy rights to gay couples.

Church supporters and conservative organizations have staged small protests against the proposed law.

Far-right lawmaker Vassilis Stigas, head of the small Spartans party, described the legislation Thursday as "sick" and claimed that its adoption would "open the gates of Hell and perversion."

Information for this article was contributed by Derek Gatopoulos, Michael Varaklas, Lefteris Pittarakis and Theodora Tongas of The Associated Press.

  photo  Supporters of the same-sex marriage bill, react during a rally at central Syntagma Square, in Athens, Greece, Thursday, Feb. 15, 2024. Greece's lawmakers approved a bill that allows same-sex marriage, making the country the first Orthodox Christian to do so. (AP Photo/Michael Varaklas)
 
 
  photo  Greece's Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis speaks during a debate in parliament on same-sex marriage in Athens, Greece, Thursday, Feb. 15, 2024. Mitsotakis' center-right government is poised to make Greece the first Orthodox Christian-majority country to approve marriage equality legislation. (AP Photo/Michael Varaklas)
 
 
  photo  Protesters pray during a rally against same-sex marriage, at central Syntagma Square, in Athens, Greece, Thursday, Feb. 15, 2024. Greece's parliament is to vote Thursday to legalize same-sex civil marriage in a first for an Orthodox Christian country and despite opposition from the influential Greek Church. (AP Photo/Michael Varaklas)
 
 
  photo  Supporters of the same-sex marriage bill, react during a rally at central Syntagma Square, in Athens, Greece, Thursday, Feb. 15, 2024. Greece's lawmakers approved a bill that allows same-sex marriage, making the country the first Orthodox Christian to do so. (AP Photo/Michael Varaklas)
 
 
  photo  Supporters of the same-sex marriage bill, react during a rally at central Syntagma Square, in Athens, Greece, Thursday, Feb. 15, 2024. Greece's lawmakers approved a bill that allows same-sex marriage, making the country the first Orthodox Christian to do so. (AP Photo/Michael Varaklas)
 
 
  photo  A supporter of the same-sex marriage bill, reacts during a rally at central Syntagma Square, in Athens, Greece, Thursday, Feb. 15, 2024. Greece's lawmakers approved a bill that allows same-sex marriage, making the country the first Orthodox Christian to do so. (AP Photo/Michael Varaklas)
 
 
  photo  A supporter of same-sex marriage bill uses a loudspeaker during a rally, at central Syntagma Square, in Athens, Greece, Thursday, Feb. 15, 2024. Greece's parliament is to vote Thursday to legalize same-sex civil marriage in a first for an Orthodox Christian country and despite opposition from the influential Greek Church. (AP Photo/Michael Varaklas)
 
 
  photo  Protesters take part in a rally against same-sex marriage, at central Syntagma Square, in Athens, Greece, Thursday, Feb. 15, 2024. Greece's parliament is to vote Thursday to legalize same-sex civil marriage in a first for an Orthodox Christian country and despite opposition from the influential Greek Church. (AP Photo/Michael Varaklas)
 
 
  photo  A supporter of the same-sex marriage bill, reacts during a rally at central Syntagma Square, in Athens, Greece, Thursday, Feb. 15, 2024. Greece's lawmakers approved a bill that allows same-sex marriage, making the country the first Orthodox Christian to do so. (AP Photo/Michael Varaklas)
 
 

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