Of politics and families: The case of Greece

A couple of days ago, it was reported that the long-awaited bill on marriage equality and adoption by same-sex couples that has caused a heated debate and monopolized the news the past few weeks is to be brought before the Parliament on February 1, 2024, by the Greek Prime Minister and head of the right-wing New Democracy ruling party, Kyriakos Mitsotakis. As we discussed in our latest blog article, this important legal reform of the national family law is the latest episode to a series of major legislative initiatives that have slowly changed the legal landscape for the Greek LGBTIQA+ citizens over the past decade. A series of protective laws and the granting of important rights to queer people has resulted in Greece being one of the most liberal countries in Southern Europe regarding LGBTIQA+ rights, or at least that’s how the story goes according to some politicians. 

In addition, this improvement in the legal status of LGBTIQA+ persons has taken place alongside the European Union’s strategy for the equality and inclusion of those people and it is framed by Greek politicians in the universal language of human rights and paradoxically at the same time as an externally imposed by the EU modernization of the Greek society implicitly coded as a sign of progress. This is especially true in the case of marriage equality since the 2015 cohabitation agreement legislation that was introduced by the left-wing Syriza government and which is actually a form of civil marriage minus the right to joint adoption 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.

However, despite these delayed reforms, Greece holds just the 13th place among the 49 countries ranked by the 2023 Rainbow Map and Index, a useful barometer that illustrates somewhat schematically the legal and policy situation of LGBTIQA+ people in Europe. Among the criteria used by Rainbow Europe – ILGA-Europe to score the countries are the ones regarding equality and non-discrimination, family, hate crime and hate speech, legal gender recognition, intersex bodily integrity, civil society space, and asylum. Regarding Greece, overall, only 58% of the LGBTIQA+ human rights under consideration have been achieved so far, and upon a closer look at the subcategory of family rights, the percentage of achieved rights is a mere 33%. More specifically, as of today, some queer persons have the right to sign a registered partnership and cohabitation agreement, while only single women can access medically assisted insemination. In contrast, marriage equality, joint adoption, second-parent adoption, automatic co-parenting recognition, access to medically assisted insemination by same-sex couples or single men, and trans parenthood have not been legally recognized yet.

However, the draft bill that was issued on January 24 for consultation and public debate before being formally introduced to Parliament does not resolve all the abovementioned parental needs of queer couples. It seems to be an important step towards equality, yet a half solution compared to the lived parental and romantic reality of many queer people. Despite these shortcomings, the bill has been forcefully supported by the majority of LGBTIQA+ organizations in Greece who seem to believe that a critique voiced against the limitations of the proposed bill and the exclusions it will inevitably reproduce would be politically untimely and would ultimately undermine the very claim made by the ‘community’. Indicative of these exclusions are the mainstream representations of rainbow families in the pictures that accompany this article. A utopian conceptualization of queer relationality beyond its legal recognition in strictly heteronormative terms and a queer critique that would do justice to the less represented among the queer ‘community’ are sacrificed in the name of a realpolitik that doesn’t leave any space for the articulation of queer political claims uttered in any language other than the one of legal rights

According to this logic, a legal reform would be the first step, the important step or the adequate step towards the real equality and inclusion of rainbow families, a step that -according to some spokespersons- would magically cure society of its queerphobia. Don’t get me wrong, the legally pending situations that the bill would settle are very real! Regarding the rainbow families, these kids are very real, these families already exist and all they demand is equal rights to every other family out there, a tiny legal reform that would solve a series of bureaucratic obstacles that make their lives extremely difficult. After all, the new law is not going to create or encourage the very social situation that it will only come to recognize as some queerphobic legislators argue. Nevertheless, this argument by activists is usually made on the basis of the sameness between rainbow and ‘traditional’ families, a sameness that has homonormative ramifications as it accepts and naturalizes the heteronormative values of the ‘traditional’ families.

Those political forces opposing the bill resort to a series of arguments that seem to follow predictable patterns and share similar rationales that unite them in hate and bigotry no matter their political origin, party history, or ideology. They also share a very similar mode of expression, the communicative strategy of voicing their harsh critiques as a morally enraged outcry sounding the alarm and issuing a warning for the future of the nation. At the center of their arguments is the appeal to the nationalist reflexes of the voters, the rationale that the legalization of same-sex marriage and especially of the adoption by same-sex couples would corrode the very foundations of our national identity, the three pillars of the ‘country, religion and family’, as the Greek saying goes, putting at risk the moral integrity of the Greek ‘people’ and the future survival of our small nation that is bombarded by external cultural influences foreign to a ‘Greekness’ already endangered by the low birth rate and its neighboring Turkey. 

The disruption of the twin institutions of marriage and family is pictured as a violation of the gender and sexual order conceptualized either as moral, natural, or divine and rests on a series of naturalized heterosexist assumptions about gender roles, intimacy, and child-rearing. Two rhetorical figures are particularly evoked here to appeal to emotion: the child and the mother. The first one is presented as the victim of pervert adults who want to play happy family against the natural order, a victim that would suffer psychologically and who might even end up a pervert themselves. The second one, the mother, is a figure that has many religious and emotional connotations in Greece where the Virgin Mary is widely celebrated. Here, the mother seems to be represented as the glue keeping the family together, the representative of morality, the one responsible for proper child-rearing, and the most indispensable member of a family, as it is mirrored in the Assisted Reproductive Technologies (ART) law that gives access to artificial insemination only to single women, excluding single men.

Another argument is the one I call the ‘open door’ argument which goes something like that: if we grant rights to queers now, more perverts, like pedophiles, will soon lay similar claims. In other words, these reforms leave the door open for more social chaos and moral corruption. And of course, there is the ‘we have more important issues at hand’ argument. To be honest, the debate around the issue seems to function as a disorientation device by the government which strives to deflect political attention away from the major problem of the high costs of living, a social problem aggravated by its neoliberal financial policies. However, this argument rests on the assumption that political problems should be put in a hierarchy according to their importance and urgency only to define the latter in terms of the heterosexual ‘majority’ and following the neoliberal economization of politics that prioritizes financial issues over human rights issues. And finally, there is the ‘society is not ready yet’ argument, a cheap appeal ad populum, to a popularity defined by the opinions of a presumably homogenous and in any case heterosexual political body implicitly assuming that human rights issues are a matter of opinion.