Image from Vice
On the 8th of December 1974 the Hellenic government put the constitution of the country to a vote, establishing Hellas as a Parliamentary Democracy by June 1975. 41 years and 14 days later, the Hellenic Parliament votes for a historical legislation, which includes the civil partnership for same sex couples. During his speech in the Parliament, the Prime Minister, Alexis Tsipras, mentions that “this ends a period of backwardness and shame for the state, which led to our country receiving international rulings against it […] Instead of celebrating, though, maybe we should apologize to the hundreds of thousands of our fellow citizens who have been denied their rights all these years.”
On the one hand, there are quite some positive parts in this piece of legislation that we would like to note. Besides the fact that it is the first time that the LGBTQI+ community of Hellas is being recognized by the state, there is first and foremost a provision for the establishment of a National Council Against Racism and Intolerance. An institutional body that comes to supplement the action of organizations fighting against these phenomena, making their work stronger and more effective. Secondly, perhaps the most important part of this law, is the repeal of Article 347 of the Criminal Code, which considered same sex sexual acts as “against nature, sexual abuse”. Additionally, the difference between the age of consent for a sexual act was revised. Up to the adoption of this law, the age of consent for sexual acts between heterosexual people was set to the 15th year of age while for homosexual people it was set to the 17th year of age. With this amendment, the age of consent has been set to 15 years of age, irrespective of sexual orientation of the actors involved. Furthermore, there was a modification of article 81A of the Criminal Code, adding gender characteristics to the motives constituting a hate crime, eliminating problems of the intersex people, who were subjected to a legal vacuum.
On the other hand, this legislation is only a baby step towards true equality before the law. There is no provision whatsoever concerning adoption by same sex couples and indeed the Parliamentarians of the opposition who voted for the civil partnership made it crystal clear that they would never support it. In addition to the above, this legislation does by no means include trans* people. However, the Ministry of Justice has promised publicly that in the following months there will be legislation put forward concerning gender identity which will allow for trans* people to form a civil partnership as well. Last but not least, the law as it has been adopted by the Parliament does not provide for tax rights for same sex civil unions, although the government has publicly promised to tackle this specific issue within six months.
All in all the extension of the civil union law to same sex couples in Hellas was a positive step, although rather limited in its scope, following an obligatory ruling of the European Court of Human Rights condemning the country for not applying the Civil Union law on an equal basis. We believe that true equality before the law will only come with deep changes, political courage and consistency and by no means by running after the absolute minimum required by court rulings. We strive for full recognition of marriage and adoption rights for same-sex couples as well as the right to define one’s gender identity without restrictions and without having to go through a castration process during the gender reassignment surgery, as is the case at the moment. Until that day comes we know very well that the road ahead is long and difficult. We will be there, joining hands with civil society and lgbtqi+ organizations for human rights for all.
Written by: Ilias Loukopoulos – Koutsis – LGBTQI+ activist and member of Neoi Prasinoi & the Coordination Committee of Neoi Prasinoi