ATHENS – Greece is expected to legalize same-sex weddings this week, in a vote set to take place the day after Valentine’s Day. However, not everyone feels this love, and the Greek Church has become an outspoken and powerful rival to the changes.
Even though the bill does not force priests to marry gays and has nothing to do with the church, it is church officials who have been the loudest opponents, with bishops appearing on television programs making outdated and false accusations and calling homosexuality a mental issue. disease and suggests that gay men and women are sick and that only the church can heal them.
If the bill is passed, Greece will be the first Christian Orthodox country with strong religious roots to allow same-sex marriage.
Ultra-Orthodox and far-right groups protested against the bill in central Athens on Sunday, February 12. Among them were many holding Greek flags, icons depicting Jesus and the Virgin Mary, and of course members of the clergy. ‘Fatherland, religion, family’ was one of their slogans.
“Since psychiatry removed homosexuality from the list of mental disorders, it abandoned related research and these unfortunate people were left helpless with only solace in the hope of easy legislation and the assertion of rights with parades of self-mockery and shame .” said Nikolaos, the Metropolitan of Mesogaia and Lavreotiki, during a meeting of the Holy Synod of the Greek Church in late January. These words angered many Greeks who took to social media to express their disapproval and even forced the Hellenic Psychiatric Association to release a statement clarifying that “Homosexuality is not a mental illness.”
According to the Greek Church, homosexuality is a sin and “the traditional family is of course in danger. A homosexual relationship cannot be either a family or a marriage,” Panteleimon, the Metropolitan of Maroneia, and Komotini, the spokesperson for the Holy Synod, told The Daily Beast, continuing: “The Church only recognizes as marriage the relationship between a man and a woman whose relationship is sanctified by the sacred mystery of marriage.”
“I expected nothing less from the Church,” says Stella Belia, who was part of a group of independent advisors working on the National Strategy for the Equality of LGBTQ+ People, which is being implemented by Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis in accordance with a initiative of the European Commission.
She told The Daily Beast that she has been “out and proud” since she was in high school, but is also a deeply religious person.
Despite being abandoned by her church, Belia has made tremendous progress as president of Rainbow Families Greece, an NGO focused on LGBTQ+ parents and their families.
Although there are politicians who are also against the bill, it is expected to be passed with a majority of parliamentary votes. Although Greece has recognized cohabitation as an alternative to marriage for same-sex couples since 2015, this addition to the civil marriage law will also recognize the children of couples who are not officially considered families and do not enjoy the same right. rights as heterosexual families. However, the right to medically assisted reproduction and surrogacy will still not be extended to same-sex couples.
“For many it is very important [gay] families who feel insecure, such as families where the only member who is the legal parent is someone whose life is in danger. Those families will finally be able to fulfill a shared role as parents,” says Belia, the biological mother of two 16-year-old boys, Giannis and Antonis, and three more children from her (now ex) long-time partner.
When her partner’s son, Christos, had a motorcycle accident on July 6, 2022, he was hospitalized in ICU for over a month. “He was under anesthesia and we didn’t know if he would live or die. And I stood outside that ICU, inside was my child and I was nobody [to him according to the hospital rules]”, she said, describing the difficulties faced by many same-sex families in Greece. Under current law, if the legal parent in a same-sex family dies, the child will most likely end up in foster care. The partner has no rights to the child and cannot exercise authority.
This bill is currently in parliamentary procedures and will be put to the vote on February 15. The church must then decide how to respond to the new law within religious contexts. Although it is not yet an official decision and Greek Archbishop Ieronymos is trying to take a more neutral position for now, other members of the clergy have suggested that they will refuse to baptize the children of gay couples, along with Seraphim, the Metropolitan. from Piraeus, and said on the Greek network SKAI: “If we baptize the children of gay couples, the children will also become gay.”
“I sometimes joke about this with my sons,” says Belia, who had children through IVF. “My boys tell me, ‘Mom, do you still love us the same now that we’re straight?'”
At this point, the Greek Church has been waiting for the government’s next step and at the next meeting of the Holy Synod it will decide how to proceed. “True love has a price; it has a sacrifice. The message of the church is clear; the church accepts everyone in repentance,” Panteleimon said. Belia replied: “None of them will rob me of my faith. And this has nothing to do with the fact that I reject the church, it has to do with the fact that the church does not want me in its fold. I won’t force myself to go where they don’t want me.”
All this comes just months after the country had its first ever gay party leader. The newly elected leader of the main opposition party in the Greek parliament, Stefanos Kasselakis of SYRIZA, is a gay man who recently married his boyfriend in New York. Same-sex marriage has also been on Kasselaki’s main agenda since day one and is one of the few issues on which Greece’s main political parties agree.
Mitsotakis said in a recent interview on national television ERT that the church could not stop the democratic will. “I absolutely respect our fellow citizens who have a different point of view, just as I respect the position of the Church. We will respect dissent, but the state makes laws and does not make laws together with the Church,” he said.
The bill will finally give visibility to a large number of people in Greece, and especially to their children. “All these years we have been fighting for the obvious,” Belia said.