The law allowing civil partnerships for same-sex couples passsed with 193 votes in favour versus 56 against. December 22, 2015. Photo: Panayiotis Tzamaros / FOS PHOTOS

Civil Partnership in Greece, a Year Later

One year ago the civil partnership was extended to same-sex couples. But LGBTI activists still see a lot of goals to accomplish.

On paper, Gregory Vallianatos always wanted to marry, but when he was allowed to, he didn’t. In December 2015, gay and lesbian couples gained the right to enter into a civil partnership in Greece. This was progress in terms of legal equality, and this success is due in no small part to Vallianatos. He was the man who sued the Greek state when the parliament passed a bill to enable civil partnerships for heterosexual unions in 2008. For the sake of the lawsuit he pretended that he wanted to establish a civil partnership with Nikolaos Mylonas. At the time, this was just possible for heterosexual couples. But the model of a civil union for same-sex couples has existed for more than 15 years in other European countries. So, in 2015, this idea of a “light marriage” for lesbian and gay couples became law in Greece — involuntarily. Since Vallianatos won the lawsuit in front of the European Court for Human Rights in November 2013, the parliament was forced to extend the civil partnership to same-sex couples.

But it took two more years for the decision to be implemented. “It was not the top priority of the conservative government,” says Mr. Vallianatos. “And even with Syriza it took one more year to be done.” It was Kostis Papaioannou who wrote and managed the draft bill that was to be passed in parliament. As the General Secretary for Human Rights he was part of the first Syriza government in Greece. “I found this humiliating for Greece, because it needed a court decision to get an equal civil partnership,” he says. For the party it was a good opportunity to show their progressive approach. “When Syriza formed the government in 2015, they took it for granted that they would give minorities equality in their basic human rights,” says Mr. Papaioannou. “There were voices that demanded radical changes in the law.” This narrative is way too positive for George Kounanis, an LGBTI rights activist for the Greek Helsinki monitor. He disagrees with this governmental narrative: “Syriza tries to pass the new law off as their own success, but in fact it was the court decision which just forced them to pass the bill.”

The fight for LGBTI rights became a professional campaign

However you interpret the role of SYRIZA, it was a major victory for the small LGBTI community in the end. In 2013, the exaltation of the community was unmistakable. In front of the parliament, activists waved rainbow flags, kissed, hugged each other. The civil partnership bill was one step towards legal equality for gay and lesbian people. Mr. Vallianatos was pleased, too. “When I launched the lawsuit in 2008 I became a public figure,” he says about the beginning of the case, “and the media began to make fun of me.” But since he started campaigning for legal rights for same-sex couples, more people joined the fight publicly. After he won the lawsuit, Mr. Vallianatos didn’t establish a partnership with Mr. Mylonas: “It should exist for those who want it,” he says with a grin. He was able to plan a professional campaign since he’s not only a gay rights activist, but also a marketing consultant. Now, others can reap the fruit of his labour.

Despite this victory, did this law also effect change in a society where a strong orthodox church sets the traditional moral principles for a large part of the population? “In 2013, most people were not aware that there was a LGBTI community,” says Georgios Kourogiorgas, member of the organisation Colour Youth. “But the parliamentary voting procedure on the civil partnership for same-sex couples was a great opportunity to gain attention.” Maybe it’s this moment of democratic success that unified the LGBTI people a bit. “In Greece, the community is more vibrant than ever before,” says Mr. Kounanis. “The queer people are much better connected than before.”

Furthermore, in November 2016 the Greek parliament passed a bill for the abolition of discrimination based on sexual orientation. Due to this law, civil partnerships are provided with the same legal situation as marriages when it comes to job rights. But this was also an act of convergence to directives of the European Union — not really an own initiative of the government. But this legal equalization can’t be everything, thinks Mr. Vallianatos. “LGBTI people should have more presence in the media.” He wants to reach a state of everyday normality of a diverse society. “Therefore the activists should participate in TV talk shows more often.” The society needs to see the faces of activists, who represent the queer community.

More challenges ahead

In the future there is still a lot to be done. “We are waiting for full gender identity recognition,” says Mr. Kourogiorgas. He thinks that Trans people are the ones who suffer the most within the community. “The civil partnership was just the first step, there is much more to be done.” Therefore, Colour Youth just launched a survey at schools to capture the problems of non-heterosexual students.

Also the fight for full legal equality for the LGBTI community will continue. “Within the next two or three years it’s quite possible that we will have a real gay marriage,” says Mr. Kounanis and is optimistic. The Greek Supreme Court could judge in favor of the group of same-sex couples who are suing the Greek state. 162 couples filed a second lawsuit which is in the queue at the moment. “But if the judges don’t overturn the marriage law, we will go to the European Court for Human Rights again.”

But when it comes to same-sex marriage and the right to adopt children, Mr. Papaioannou is pessimistic. “I think this will take a long time. At the moment there is no political party in Greece to support these claims.”

Photo: Aggeliki Koronaiou / FOS PHOTOS

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