Greece Extends Marriage, Adoption Rights to Same-Sex Couples in Historic Parliament Vote

Bianca Echa

Greece Extends Marriage, Adoption Rights to Same-Sex Couples in Historic Parliament Vote

For more than 20 years, Stavros Gavriliadis and Dimitrios Elefsiniotis have been building a life together. They bought a house and started a family. But under Greek law, they couldn’t marry or both be recognized as the parents of their three children—until this week.

Greece’s parliament voted on Thursday to extend equal marriage and automatic parental rights to all of the country’s 10.5 million citizens, and to allow same-sex couples to adopt. It is the first majority Christian Orthodox country to take the step, and now stands out in a region largely opposed to change. 

“Our suits and wedding rings are already ready,” Gavriliadis said. “Maybe we’ll be the first to get married.”

The new law means the 52-year-old allergist will no longer go to bed worrying that his son will become a ward of the state if he dies before his partner, or if he’ll be allowed to pick up his (non-biological) twins from school. The five of them will finally be considered a single family in the eyes of the law—not “strangers” as Gavriliadis put it.

“The reform makes the lives of lots of our fellow citizens much better, without taking away anything from the lives of the many,” Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis said. “Marriage is nothing more than the culmination of the love of two people who choose to be together by making a commitment to themselves, the state and society as a whole.”

Legalizing same-sex marriage, a key part of Mitsotakis’s effort to modernize Greece, marks a major step for a prime minister coming from a conservative party. Even after winning a landslide election in June, he had to rely on support from the center-left and leftist opposition parties to pass the measure amid resistance from parts of his own party as well as the influential Greek Orthodox church.

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“Mitsotakis carries weight and feels he can spend some political capital to deal with sensitive issues at the same time that the opposition is also in deep crisis,” said Wolfango Piccoli, co-president of London-based Teneo Intelligence.

Support from the opposition came from Stefanos Kasselakis, leader of the leftist Syriza, the second-largest party in the parliament, who had called on his lawmakers to approve the bill ahead of the vote. Kasselakis, himself a gay man, married his American partner in the U.S. in October. Nikos Androulakis, leader of the socialist Pasok, also backed the proposal, as well as two smaller leftist parties.

Campaigners and rights activists say the new law doesn’t go far enough because it doesn’t allow male same-sex couples to have children via surrogacy in Greece—that is reserved for women unable to conceive and remains a sensitive issue across much of Europe, where governments are uneasy with the procedure they view as a commercial transaction.

While Britain and Greece are very different societies, it was the experience of another leader—David Cameron—that showed incorporating more people into the institution of marriage and family is consistent with conservatism, according to Minister of State Akis Skretsos, who was responsible for introducing the legislation to the Greek parliament.

Cameron pushed for same-sex marriage after becoming U.K. prime minister in 2010, over the objections of his own party, the church and despite a lukewarm electorate. By the time it was brought to parliament, Britain’s national mood had shifted towards greater tolerance. The law came into effect in 2014. Cameron has said it is his proudest achievement.

For Eleni Maravelia, a 47-year-old e-commerce manager in Barcelona, Greece’s new law means she can now move back home with her family.

“Such a move wasn’t possible before as my wife would have had no rights over our children, including not being able to take decisions regarding their well being,” she said. 

Maravelia added, “There is a major obstacle in the European Union in terms of freedom of movement to live and work elsewhere as LGBTIQ families are recognized in a country such as Spain, but not in another such as Italy.”

The E.U. is trying harmonize legislation across the bloc to address that, but is meeting resistance from countries like Italy and Hungary—where governments are cracking down on their LGBTQ communities. With Greece, 16 member states out of 27 now recognize same-sex marriage.

“Greece breaks the mold as the first country in the southeast of the E.U. that adopts marriage equality—it reaffirms Greece’s position in the heart of Europe,” said Alex Patelis, senior economic adviser to the Greek premier.

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The shift was a long time in the making. Rights campaigners began pushing for it in earnest in 2008 when a civil union pact was introduced that excluded LGBTQ people. It took another seven years for civil partnerships to be open to all Greeks, under Alexis Tsipras’s left-wing government.

While those unions recognized same-sex partners who entered them as next of kin and allowed them to enjoy some of the same rights as married couples, they didn’t automatically come with the same adoption rights and parental recognition as marriage.  

In his first term, Mitsotakis sped up the pace of change, introducing a number of reforms to equalize rights, including lifting a ban on homosexual men making blood donations. Greece jumped up rankings that track the legal and policy situation for LGBTQ people.

For now, Gavriliadis said the new law is a welcome solution to his family’s problems.

After marriage, he will officially adopt the twins of Dimitrios and Dimitrios will adopt his son.

“We’ll finally be one family with two surnames,” he said. The law “honors freedom, equality, love, our dignity and ensures the rights of our children.” 

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