In Greece, where a patriarchal vision of the family still predominates, same-sex couples will soon be able to access the institution of marriage and adoption. This is the promise of conservative Prime Minister Kyriakos Mītsotakīs, who on Wednesday declared on the public television station ERT:
We will legislate on marriage equality, that is, on the elimination of any discrimination based on sexual orientation that still exists in this area… What is marriage in the end? For me it is the result of love between two people, but also a legal contract with rights and obligations.
The presentation of the bill “will not be long in coming” according to the leader of Néa Dimokratía, who however added “I want the debate in society to mature before submitting a bill to the government”.
This is a promise that the center-right politician had already formulated immediately after his re-election, in July last year, arguing in an interview with Bloomberg that Greek society would now be “ready and more mature”.
Mītsotakīs’ argument is that such a change would benefit “a few children and couples”, without affecting the rights of the rest of the population. “Same-sex couples have children… but they do not have the same rights as other children”, because from a legal point of view they are deprived of a parent, the prime minister explained in the interview with ERT.
This refers to the fact that, since 1946, the Greek constitution has allowed single parents – women or men – to adopt, but in the case of gay couples, the second parent is not recognized. In this regard, it is true that when Syriza was in government in 2015 it introduced civil unions for same-sex couples, but these only solved the problems related to inheritance and not those related to adoptions.
Mītsotakīs is careful to point out that Greek rules regarding assisted reproduction will not change. That is, surrogate pregnancy will continue to be accessible only to heterosexual couples and single women.
The idea that women are being turned into machines to produce babies on demand… that’s just not going to happen. We will not experiment with more progressive ideas,
explains Mītsotakīs, who was among other things the first head of the Greek government to appoint an openly gay minister, Nicholas Yatromanolakis.
Despite these reassurances, his party, Néa Dimokratía, is in turmoil. Some more liberal MPs have confirmed that they will support the prime minister. This is the case of his sister, Dora Bakoyannis, who on the Mega TV channel stated that despite her being
a traditionalist mother and grandmother… the reality is that today there are not only traditional families. There are single parents, families with divorced parents or same-sex parents.
LGBTQ+ families are “harmed by the law”, therefore they must be “protected”, recognizes Bakoyannis.
But influential figures in the party, such as former prime minister Antōnīs Samaras, do not think the same way. At the moment, of the 158 deputies of Néa Dimokratía, less than a hundred would be ready to support the new law. In Wednesday’s interview, Mītsotakīs assured that he would not force members of his party to vote in favor of the text, hinting that they might abstain. The next day, two right-wing newspapers, Estia and Dimokratia, ran headlines saying that the legalization of equal marriages could be Mītsotakīs’s “Waterloo”.
The prime minister’s political calculation is the opposite. He knows that to pass the text he will most likely be able to count on the votes of the opposition. The new leader of Syriza, Stefanos Kasselakīs, has already made it known that the 38 deputies of his party will vote in favor of Mītsotakīs’ proposal. Nonetheless, Kasselakīs complains about the prime minister’s lack of courage, both because his proposal excludes gay couples from accessing surrogate pregnancy, and because in his view, the prime minister does not have the courage to impose a more ironclad party discipline on his parliamentary troops regarding the issue.
Mītsotakīs’ bet with the new rule is that it will allow to continue to hold onto the center of the Greek electorate, which was decisive in the landslide victory last July with which the center-right leader established himself for a second mandate. In this sense the growing popularity of Syriza’s new leader poses a threat that Mītsotakīs may lose liberal votes to the opposition. The unexpected election of Kasselakīs to the helm of Alexis Tsipras’s party last September 24 represented a cultural shock for Greek society and put the wind in the left’s sails. Thirty-five-year-old former banker Stefanos Kasselakīs is the first leader in Greek political history to openly declare himself to be homosexual. He recently got married in the United States, makes no secret of wanting a child by resorting to surrogate pregnancy, and blames the prime minister for the delay in legalizing gay marriage.
When it comes to human rights, one cannot hide behind the argument that everything comes in its time,
complains Kasselakīs, accusing the government of having made no progress in this regard in the last four years.
But Mītsotakīs wants to demonstrate exactly the opposite, that is, that he will be able to do what Syriza was unable to do when it was in government. The conservative prime minister aims to present the bill to legalize gay marriage before the European elections in June. His firm belief is that he can gain an electoral boost from it.
However, he risks going against the powerful Orthodox Church, whose synod thundered in a circular distributed to the dioceses in December:
Children are not animals or accessories… No social modernization or political correctness can change children’s natural need to have a father and a mother.
The metropolitan bishop of Piraeus, Serafino, who in the past had threatened to excommunicate deputies who vote to legalize gay unions, lashed out against homosexuality, calling it “an abuse of the body” and a “great sin”.
This is a major obstacle for Mītsotakīs, given the important influence that the Orthodox Church still exerts on Greek politics and society. But there is a precedent that offers hope. In 1982, when civil marriage was introduced in the Hellenic Republic, the Church declared that it was a sin and that couples who did not marry in church would be living in adultery. However, Greek society has moved forward.
Mītsotakīs focuses on the same dynamic:
Reforms in family law have always come from the center-left, while the center-right has always lagged behind… I still remember how Néa Dimokratía opposed revolutionary changes in family law in 1982, such as the decriminalization of adultery, which today seems obvious.
And he warns:
We will listen to the positions of the church. I don’t know if we will be able to reach an agreement. But it is the state that makes the laws, and it does not make them together with the church.
Translation by Paul Rosenberg
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