Marriage equality in Greece

how did we get here?

Let’s start from the beginning, shall we? Ecce Homo is a Greek queer underwear and swimwear brand that trades worldwide! Despite the international scope of our commercial reach, our Corporate Social Responsibility program and of this very fashion blog, many times over the course of the latter we have tackled issues that pertain specifically to the Greek socio-political context as we find them sometimes paradigmatic of the constantly in flux state of LGBTIQA+ rights throughout the world. After all, what all queers around the globe share beyond their particular positionalities and intersectional differences is the common experience of systemic queerphobia and the human need for love. 

For exactly this very reason, we have reported many times news from Greece regarding the PrEP,that is the Pre-Exposure Prophylaxis, the history of HIV/AIDS in general, the intersex rights, the ban on conversion therapies, the lifting of the yearlong ban on blood donation by MSM, that is men having sex with men, the history of Pride Parades and especially the one taking place in the home city of Ecce Homo, Thessaloniki, and the attacks on the art of drag on the occasion of events at which drag queens read stories to kids, among many other. To be sure, the issue of LGBTIQA+ parenting, which is -along with marriage equality- the subject of this article, has always been very close to Ecce Homo’s heart long before the recent resurgence of the interest in the matter in Greece thanks to Prime Minister’s, Kyriakos Mitsotakis, announcements of the past few weeks that his right-wing government is to bring a bill regarding same-sex marriage and full joint adoption by same-sex couples to parliament in the foreseeable future. In what follows, I will try to put this political commitment to its historical and political context and comment on the language in which this heated debate is framed by the government itself.  

Putting this development into a historical perspective could prove invaluable when it comes to the real stakes and the political background of the matter. This bill did certainly not come out of the blue, but it is rather the latest episode to a series of major legislative initiatives and societal shifts over the past decade that has established Greece as one of the most liberal countries in Southern Europe regarding LGBTIQA+ rights. Among the most prominent legal reforms toward protecting LGBTIQA+ persons and granting them a series of indispensable rights are the 2005 anti-discrimination laws in employment, the 2014 hate speech and hate crime laws, the 2015 same-sex cohabitation agreement law and the equation of the age of consent for sex between men with one for heterosex, the 2017 legal gender recognition law, the 2018 right to foster care children law, the 2021 repeal of the law that denied people living with HIV the right to adopt and foster children and of the ban on blood donation by men having sex with men, MSM, the 2022 ban on IGM, the Intersex Genital Mutilation, the 2022 granting people living with HIV/AIDS access to Assisted Reproductive Technologies (ART), among other.

The noticeable intensification of the legal reforms by the current government takes place in the context of the so called National Strategy for the Equality of LGBTQI+ people in Greece, a non-legally binding text by the decision of the Prime Minister. This text, a response to the European Commission's first ever strategy to protect the rights of LGBTIQA+ people in the European Union, contains a strong recommendation for the legislation of the civil same-sex marriage and the full joint adoption of children by same-sex couples. One also should keep in mind that the 2015 cohabitation agreement legislation that was introduced by the left-wing Syriza government and which did not dare to extend the right to civil marriage and adoption to the same-sex couples was voted two years after the ruling of the European Court of Human Rights in favor of the plaintiffs in the case Valianatos and Others vs. Greece condemning the exclusion of same-sex couples from the option to contract cohabitation agreements. In the meantime, European Union itself has taken major steps towards LGBTIQA+ equality and inclusion. Regarding the matter at hand, in 2018 the European Court of Justice overturned its established case law by ruling that married same-sex couples have the same residency rights as married opposite-sex couples under EU law, even if same-sex marriage is not legal in that particular EU member state. In other words, despite the fact that each member state retains in general its autonomy to legislate as it seems fit in matters of family law due to its culturally sensitive nature, this ruling obliged every EU country, including Greece, to abide by a new legal standard regarding same-sex marriage.

On top of that, both the Prime Minister himself and the party members of New Democracy, the ruling party, either explicitly or implicitly but in any case strategically resort to a rhetoric that is framed in the exactly these terms, that is presenting this bill as a way of modernizing the parochial Greek family law as required by the EU, as a step towards inclusivity and equality which is nonetheless forced by the external upper hand of Brussels. The language used to make this argument is usually the lingua franca of human rights that paradoxically reproduces the same argument of LGBTIQA+ activist according to which LGBTIQA+ rights are human rights and deserve equal protection under the law. Let me tread lightly at this point. I do not mean under any circumstances to argue against the fact that queer rights are and should be treated with the dignity and respect of any other human right. After all, the statement that the right to marriage and adoption by same-sex couples is indeed a human right when uttered by the lips of a state official reveals beyond any doubt the systemic queerphobia that has permeated the state itself so far. In other words, it testifies to the fact that the queer citizens have been either second-class citizens or not fully human so far despite the fact that human rights are granted on the basis of the one unalienable humanity which in this case seems only too conditional. It seems humanity is a relative concept from a heteronormative perspective.

However, what I am trying to show with the abovementioned history of how we have gotten to this current political moment is that the use of the universal language of human rights that triggers our humanitarian western instincts and the discursive construction of the EU as both the guardian of LGBTIQA+ rights and the enforcer of their legislation are two powerful argumentative devices deployed by the government who fosters at its ranks far-right politicians to say the least. This way the introduction of this bill is presented to the citizenry -which is of course 'not ready' for such 'a destruction of the nation’s constitutive principle of family, god’s divine law or nature’s given fact' as the saying goes- as the inevitable fulfillment of an obligation imposed to the government by the EU, something over which it has no say. 

On the other hand, this obligation imposed from abroad, from the always progressive in our cultural imaginary West, must be invested with a moral meaning in order to be more easily ‘digested’ by the citizens-soon-to-be-voters-in-the-next-elections and to appease the 'dissident' party members of the rulling party. This is where the discourse of human rights comes in and performs the heavy duty of moralizing the same-sex marriage and the adoption by same-sex couples, two things that are considered by the majority of Greeks as immoral, let alone unnatural or even dangerous to the social order and the viability of the Greek nation. The reason this language of human rights works so well to legitimize something culturally unintelligible or morally reprehensible rests in the fact that it is a universalist language, one that is able to overcome the national particularities, one that has an educational tone that we cannot ignore, one that interpellates us as subject of a ‘global’ progressive community of which we should be members by making this small sacrifice of our ‘local’ opinions.

 More on this matter in our next blog article. Stay tuned!